ReBe Ordination... Updated

By Taylor Burton-Edwards


Tony Jones has issued a sort of wrap up since this blog was originally posted. You can find it here. I've offered comment there as well. I'm not sure what it means that he took up one of my replies to him right off the bat-- maybe the term "ontological shibboleth" just sounded so provocative he couldn't resist hitting it first.

I remain grateful that Tony has raised these issues.

-- T.

If you've been out on the emerging/emergent blogosphere much in the last week or so, you are probably well aware of Tony Jones' recent call for denominations to radically reform ordination-- combined with more than a bit of vitriol against denominations and those who choose to try to be ordained in them. He's also been trying to get the leader of Presbymergent, Adam Walker Cleaveland, to walk away from PCUSA and accept ordination from him and other emergent types.

So far, Adam's not walking.

And so far, Tony's gotten more than a bit of pushback for both the vitriol and the attempt to ordain someone with no process in place and no actual ecclesial community behind it.

The questions Tony raises about ordination are often good ones, though. At the heart of them is a concern that ordination seems to convey and reinforce the notion that those ordained are both "better than" and "set over" other people in the church, and so perpetuate a laity-clergy divide.

By virtue of my role at Discipleship Ministries, I'm one of the co-authors and the "editor in chief" of the Ordinal (the ritual and the guidance for the using the ritual for ordination and related services) for The United Methodist Church. So the whole question of ordination is of more than academic concern to me. It's an important part of what I work on, regularly, in the life of this church.

I don't take Tony's questions as a threat. (His vitriol-- not so helpful!). I see them as an opportunity, perhaps especially for us here, many of whom may be still in the midst of ordination processes and some of whom may have connections with Boards of Ordained Ministry who could influence how these actually play out where you are.

What I can offer here is a bit of insight on the principles that guide the conversation and the work of the Ordinal Revision Committee (the folks who work on the ritual itself).

If I were to try to summarize our understanding of ordination most succinctly-- and you can see this played out more fully in the current Ordinal and the Book of Discipline -- it is this:

Ordination is an act of the Holy Spirit through the church conveyed by the person of the Bishop, the people consenting.

That's the principle. Or one might say, those are the ideals. There are 4 pieces here, each important, each intentional, and each reflected both in our ritual (we hope!) and reflective of the principles underlying ordination across the history of the whole church.

  • An act of the Holy Spirit
  • through the church
  • conveyed by the person of the bishop
  • the people consenting

My question is this-- what practices would you commend to help us as United Methodists actually live out these ideas, both ritually and practically, through the ordination process and through the lives of the ordained and the people among whom they serve?

I look forward to your insights and replies.