This coming weekend (God-willing), I will be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. The service that will take place on Saturday is the culmination of years of discernment, academic study, and prayer. So you might be surprised to read the title of this blog, but read on and you will discover the five reasons that it makes no sense whatsoever for me to get ordained.
Millennials Don’t Like Commitment
As a twenty-something, I am used to being told that I don’t value commitment or “traditional” ways of doing things. The journalists and baby boomers sure do know what they’re talking about. I am so commitment averse that I have already made vows to my wife and will soon make vows to the Church. Am I the norm? Maybe not. But you can’t write off an entire generation because your neighbor’s adult son lives in the basement.
Is this too harsh? Perhaps.
In my ordination service I will promise to commit myself to the trust and responsibility of being a priest. I will promise to read and study the Holy Scriptures, administer the Sacraments, and to persevere in prayer. It is a level of commitment unlike any other.
Millennials like me aren’t steering clear of commitment. We are steering toward commitment to things greater than ourselves. Our commitment to traditional careers or life paths may be drying up, but our commitment to community service and pursuits that honor our whole being has never been stronger.
The Church is Dying
The Church Decline Industrial Complex is big and loud. People are making their names (and careers) on the idea the Church is dying, but when you say the Church is dying, you need to clarify what you mean. Nadia Bolz-Weber recently said that if you mean that you think that people will no longer gather in the name of the Triune God, break bread, and remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then yes – the Church is dying. But if you mean anything else, you are not talking about the Church dying. Perhaps the way we’ve organized congregational life doesn’t work anymore. Perhaps the way we see ourselves in relation to the rest of the world is not helpful. Perhaps the way we interact with those who disagree, especially other Anglicans and Christians, is no longer useful.
I am committing myself to a Church that is in the resurrection business. The Church as the Body of Christ cannot die, because the Body of Christ died once and rose again. The Church in 2015 looks very different from the Church in 1915 or 1415 or 115. In the same way, the Church of the future will necessarily look very different from the Church today. I am committing myself to walk with and work in the Church in the ways that the Episcopal Church has received it. The Church is not dying and I am excited to help guide the Church of the future.
Putting Myself Under Authority
Right after publishing an article about how millennials hate commitment, many folks love to talk about how millennials don’t respect authority in the traditional way. Article after article about how to handle millennials in the workplace have been flying around the internet in the past few years. So it might seem odd for me to commit to “respect and be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of [the] bishop”. Becoming a priest in a church whose name literally means overseer or Bishop (episkopos = overseer) is a whole different level of commitment to authority.
We are in an interesting moment in history when any form of authority is looked at with a skeptical eye. In the realm of religion and spirituality there is this feeling that each person’s experience is equal to every other’s. In the history of the Church, however, it has been recognized that certain people are given the trust and responsibility to watch over and guard the faith. It is comforting to know that there is a person, in the tradition of the apostles, making sure that I stay within the boundaries of the historic faith. In another interview, Nadia Bolz-Weber said, “I realized [as] I was watching these TV preachers and I asked myself the question, like did they at the beginning of their ministry love the Gospel? Like did they have this intention to really spread this beautiful good news? And if so, what were all the steps it took to become what they are now? And like, you know what they don’t have? Bishops. They don’t have people looking over their shoulder to say, ‘Are you still on the Yellow Brick Road?'”
I need a Bishop to keep the boundaries intact, to give pastoral care to the pastors of the people, and to set the tone for the Church. I need a Bishop to make sure I am still on the Way.
Joining a Club With a Bad Track Record
The Church has a bad history. Sure, it has done many, many great things in the name of Christ, but it has likewise done many, many terrible things in that same name. Why would I join this team, knowing the history? Because the Church is made up of broken people who are susceptible to evil and sin just like anyone else. The Church must repent of the sins of the past and apologize where necessary. The Church must repent of the sin of slavery and racism and bigotry that has stained its past.
The real test, however, is not how we answer for sins of the past but how we handle the evil and sin of our day. The Church must look at what is going on in the world and ask where God is calling us. Whether it is the #blacklivesmatter movement or the Syrian refugee crisis, there are many things going on in the world that need the Church’s voice. In twenty years, will we be apologizing for not speaking up or putting our lives on the line for those in need or will we be standing together rejoicing at what the Holy Spirit has done through us?
This brings to mind the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.”
I am excited to be a leader in the Church that is called to be nonconformists to the oppressive ways of the world and to conform ourselves, instead, to Christ.
Do They Know Who I Am?
This is the most personal reason why I shouldn’t get ordained. The mistakes that I have made and the trouble that I have caused other people in my life should surely disqualify me for this order. I am not cut out to be the pure and blameless example of the Christian life. And I don’t have to be.
I once heard an old priest say that he was called to ordained ministry because God didn’t trust him enough to be a lay person, that God wanted to keep him close.
A classmate in seminary said that a priest is not the shepherd of the flock because we already have a Great Shepherd. The priest is the sheep at the front of the flock that points the way to the shepherd.
My life experience is not the most pristine but it all points to the grace of God. My own experience has helped me see how helpless I am without the grace and guidance of God. Everything that I have experienced has prepared me to minister to God’s people and proclaim the Gospel.
Priests are called by God and their faith community to lead the people in prayer and to administer the Sacraments. They are not called to be other-worldly, super-human, or to float around on cloud of smug spirituality. Priests are people who have encountered the Living God in such a way that they must respond by giving themselves to the service of the Church and helping others to hear the Good News.
These are the top five reasons I should not get ordained. In spite of these things, God-willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained as a priest in Christ’s holy Church. I cannot do it on my own and I don’t have to. A classic hymn has been on my mind leading up to this day. The words of the chorus are a great way to close: