Monthly Archives: May 2019

(Almost) Ordination time

In a week and a half we have a unique occasion for celebration – Pastor Mark will be ordained for pastoral ministry. 

Mennonite theology values the priesthood of all believers.  We all have access to the Divine and share in the call to embody the healing and reconciling ministry of Jesus.  We also recognize certain offices of ministry, among them chaplains and pastors.  The priesthood of all believers doesn’t necessarily mean the pastorhood of all believers!

Our denominational Polity Manual says: “Ordination is an act of the church that confirms those whom God and the church have called to particular roles of leadership ministry – both to build up the local body and to further engage the congregation in the mission of God.”

In our polity, credentialing for ministry is a two-step process.  A pastor is first licensed, a temporary credential for a time of testing and discernment by the individual and the congregation.  And then, if both choose, ordination, which affirms and solidifies this calling.

On Sunday, June 9, during the worship service, we as the church, led by CDC Conference Minister Doug Luginbill, will act and confirm Mark’s ministry.

It’s kind of routine and kind of a big deal.  Routine because this is a common step for pastors to take who decide they want to stick with this for a while.  The words of affirmation and blessing are those uttered in other congregations present and past.    

It’s a big deal because pastorhood is no small task.  It’s a big deal for a community to say they want you to help lead them, to borrow words from our Membership Commitment statement, “toward a more just, peaceful, and merciful embodiment of God’s love in this world.”  That’s a big deal, and can feel kind of heavy sometimes.   

It’s also a big deal because the church as a whole is still fearful and, at times, openly hostile towards queer folks, especially as leaders.  I have a deep appreciation and admiration for Mark and others who accept this calling despite these realities.       

I’m grateful Mark has heard the voice that is deeper and truer than those objections.  I’m grateful CMC has been fertile ground for his flourishing.  I’m grateful for how Mark has been a pastor to me through his caring and thoughtful spirit. 

So let’s celebrate on June 9. 

And remember, if you show up at the church building this Sunday you’ll be singing hymns solo.  We’re meeting at Highbanks Metro Park for the annual outdoor service.

Joel

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Retirements

Yesterday I attended the convocation chapel at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) which honored the careers or retiring professors Dr. John Kampen and Dr. Linda Mercadante.  Both have Mennonite ties.  John and his wife Carol are long time members of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship where I pastored prior to CMC.  Linda and her husband Joe Mas attend CMC.

Both gave reflections.  John recalled what he feels to be the most important accomplishment of his professional career:  While teaching and serving as Academic Dean at Payne Theological Seminary, an African Methodist Episcopal Church school, he helped them become an officially credentialed seminary.  They continue to form black leaders who are shaping communities and institutions.

Linda spoke of MTSO as a haven for her over a long academic career that included personal challenges.  She began her career surrounded by male faculty and has seen the institution grow to embrace female faculty.  It was noted that because of her long tenure, over half of the alumni to ever pass through MTSO would know her, and that her work with those who identify as spiritual but not religious has made a major contribution at the intersection of faith and culture.

Retirement seems to be a major theme these days at CMC as well.  I don’t know how many of you have retired in the last couple years, but it’s a lot.  Which means questions of identity, direction, and calling are all very close to the surface these days.  Where to focus one’s energy?  How to enter into this new stage of life in a way that welcomes new opportunities along with a chance for renewal?  How to let go of professional identities yet still claim the gifts one exercised in those offices?  How to adjust expectations when one’s body doesn’t cooperate with one’s aspirations.  And many other such questions. 

Listening to John and Linda speak affirmed how valuable it is to listen to one another’s stories, and what a gift it is to have this multi-generational community called a congregation.  Since we’re starting to live with the words of our new Membership Commitment Statement, this line especially applies: “Learn from one another, allowing the wisdom of all ages to teach us.”

I’m not sure if we have enough structured ways to learn from the wisdom of all ages, but I want to say for now that it’s a very good thing.  And I’m guessing our recently retired folks are feeling both parts of that statement: That they have some wisdom to share, and that they have so much more to learn.

Joel

Membership, Centers, and Boundaries

This month we’re welcoming 16 new members into CMC.  Four joined this past Sunday.  Another 12 will join this coming Sunday.  As has become our custom, we’ll hear brief reflections from each of them.  We’ll share Communion, served by new members.  And we’ll recite together our Membership Commitment statement – an old practice with new (and fewer!) words.

Membership actually seems like a bit of an anomaly for how we generally do church.  About 30 years ago missiologist Paul Hiebert proposed the now-common categories of Bounded Set and Centered Set.  Groups that operate as a Bounded Set actively define who’s in and out.  They emphasize lines and boundaries, and what criteria determines those boundaries.  A primary image here is a fence.

A primary image for Centered Set groups is a well.  There are no limits on how far away you are from the well, but if you’re thirsty you’ll move toward it.  I also like to think of Centered Set communities in terms of a gravitational force.  We’re all orbiting, in our own ways, around a common center of love/community/Christ/justice/peace. It’s the strength of the center, rather than the fences around it, that holds us together.

CMC is definitely a Centered Set kind of congregation.  Yet membership is closer to a Bounded Set way of operating.  You’re either on the role or you’re not. 

I don’t find this slight hybridization overly problematic, just worth pondering.

Membership is a way of publicly claiming affiliation and affinity with this congregation.  In reciting our Membership Commitment statement, we’re literally making commitments to one another, with the acknowledgement that we often fail, and that the whole endeavor is energized by God’s grace.

And perhaps membership can be done as a Centering exercise.  Its our way of claiming that we are all orbiting around a common Center, that we are consciously choosing to be a part of that orbit, and that we’re giving one another the grace and space needed to do that in the most authentic way.

Joel