What’s with the Ordination thing?

my commissioning in 2006

my commissioning in 2006

Not everyone who knows me is a church-going Methodist-loving nerd.

I know, strange, but true.

So some have been wondering, what is the ordination thing all about, and if I attend it, what should I do? What should I wear? Can I make cat calls?

No on the last one, please. Clothes on the second one.

What is an Ordination, in non-theological language?

It’s a little like graduation. It’s partially a recognition and celebration of the preparation and work my colleagues and I have undergone these past three, five, heck, ten years or so. The preparation was not just academic, but spiritual, psychological, practical, and deeply personal, and in this ceremony, we conclude that portion of the work, and like a commencement, turn to the beginning of the rest of our careers in our ministries, whatever they might hold. Also, this year is the last of our Annual Conference’s ordinations, and so there’s some saying goodbye involved too. Kind of like graduation.

It’s a little like a wedding. I don’t want to take the metaphor too far and say I’m married to God or to the church to the exclusion of my actual spouse, but it’s one of the closest examples we have. This is both a personal and a communal recognition of a sacred commitment, a commitment that doesn’t start with the ceremony, just as the relationship between two people doesn’t start on the wedding day, but is celebrated in a worshipful setting and vows are spoken, and the covenant is witnessed and therefore in a way, pledged to be upheld, by all present. More on this in a second.

It’s a little like a healing ceremony or a prayer circle. This is the least familiar metaphor for my non-churchy friends, but you can still get the idea. As part of the ceremony, each person being ordained is prayed over by the Bishop, by supervisors in their ministry, and by mentors or friends chosen by the ordinand, who have supported them in the process. To be prayed for– touched and prayed for– is a pretty powerful thing. I’ve been on the receiving end of similar things a few times, and it can take your breath away. My theology of prayer is a little wobbly sometimes, but I believe that so much focused intention, love, support, and prayer to God can’t help but be a wonderful and uplifting thing. I never fail to feel moved and goosebumply when I see it; I can’t imagine what it is to participate in it in this context. It is, for me, every time I watch it, a true God moment.

At that moment, when the Bishop and mentors are placing their hands on the ordinand, something that I think is truly special happens in the room. Everyone there in support of that person, everyone who has been touched by that person and her or his ministry, everyone who would affirm the blessing of this person and pray for God’s Spirit to continue to work in and through their ministry, stands. Just silently stands up. No clapping, no cheering, but with the movement of the body says, Yes. Me too. I’m praying that prayer (or the equivalent in my own personal belief) too. I too affirm God’s work in this person and I want their ministry to be blessed. I bear witness to this committment, and I pledge myself to support this person and their commitment to God and God’s ministry in any way I can.

At least, that’s what I mean when I stand up.

I hope you mean it too.

If you want details about where and when the ceremony is, there’s an event page on my facebook, or let me know. Come if you can, or think of me around 10:30 and following next Saturday, and you’ll be standing up from afar.


Maybe this means the powers that be are listening!

As I posted earlier, the news that the work on a new United Methodist Hymnal has been postponed generated many ideas about what might spring up in the meantime, including a couple of great discussions over on the facebook group for the new hymnal.

This morning, Dean McIntyre from the General Board of Discipleship emailed that group and asked us (all 1800 of us!) what our ideas are. I hope this means they’re willing to take some of ours into account! Here’s my response to his question:

Dean, I am so glad you asked!

A member of this group named Steve has a great post about what he dreams the hymnal might be here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=828639436#/topic.php?uid=49135229167&topic=8993. Likewise, Jeremy has another thread about how we might proceed here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=49135229167#/topic.php?uid=49135229167&topic=8988.

Combining these two, I want to strongly suggest that the hymnal go super-digital. Using open source technology like Wikipedia does, you could have Methodists from all around the world suggest new songs for review, post alternative lyrics to classic tunes (or gender and ethnically sensitive lyrics for classic hymns), submit alternate psalter settings or uses, and write prayers for inclusion in an online-only hymnal supplement, and so much more! Imagine a truly global hymnal for a truly global church! People could tag hymns with keywords for faster indexing (still no index for The Faith We Sing, which is a huge hindrance, and whatever mind put together the 89 Hymnal didn’t use the keywords I want– where do I find hymns about ‘inclusiveness,’ or ‘diversity,’ or ‘mother’s day’ or ‘Native American heritage’ or a slew of other ideas? If I could add keywords or tags, and so could everyone else, suddenly we’d have many more ideas about which hymns might best fit the Word of the day.

As we build an online coalition of ideas and resources, available as it becomes ready, perhaps for an annual or one-time access key fee but produced at very minimal cost, this material could be culled, refined, and gathered for use in a printed hymnal in the future. Churches like mine would purchase probably half as many hardbound hymnals no matter what’s available online (we have probably 200 UMHs but found we only needed 60 FWSs since we use the projector screen now), but would regularly access the digital online hymnal for lyrics to paste into PowerPoint, prayer ideas, to listen to alternate tunes, and to search the ever-expanding index and find a beloved song that fits perfectly with the message that the worship team is trying to communicate through the service. At the same time, nothing would prevent a church from remaining with the hard-bound hymnal, and using the new paper hymnal when it comes out, never needing to spend the extra for the online resources if they weren’t planning on using them. I think you’ll find that even though the median age of this facebook group and other online United Methodist communities is relatively young (compared to, say, the median age of United Methodists in the U.S.), many if not all of us are still very sensitive to the needs of older print-based generations to keep the hymns, tunes, and media formats (i.e. books) that move and shape them in their faith. So while I personally cringe at “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I would by no means recommend striking it from the Hymnal– although I hear there are some lovely alternative lyrics out there that might interest me.

And ditch the hymnal on cdrom. That Folio view format used for the UMH&FWS, as well as for the NIB is just horrendous and unhelpful. Again, better to have it online and ask for an access fee. Then glitches and typos (o so many typos in the FWS!) can be fixed quickly, and the user interface can be improved in terms of searchability, bookmarking, and so on. All of this for the cost of a couple of web developers and some moderators (many of whom might be hanging around this group just waiting for an opportunity to moderate a conversation about sacred music).

While the print version of the hymnal may be becoming less cost-effective and less frequently used in worship, United Methodists are still people who sing in large part so that we can express and grow in our faith. Sacred music is alive and well–hymnody is alive and well–and you have literally thousands (almost 1800 right on this group) of people who are willing to help and share their creative ideas about how best to do that in an ever-changing context. The Gospel the Wesley brothers brought to bar music, I’m betting we can bring to the web database, the iPod, and the mp3 archive.

Blessings to you and your colleagues in this important work, and thank you again for asking. We hope you’re listening to our ideas here. It gives me tremendous hope and excitement about our church and its musical gifts to the world.

Becca Clark
pastor, Troy Annual Conference
Trinity UMC, Montpelier & Grace UMC, Plainfield VT

That Old Time Hymnal; it’s good enough for…

The United Methodist world is abuzz with the news: production on the new United Methodist Hymnal, slated for the 2012 quadrennium, has been halted.

While my congregation rejoices that this means the copies of The Faith We Sing we just bought are not going to be obsolete right away, and I rejoice that people aren’t going to dump a gozillion Hymnals in recycling bins just yet, it’s a great opportunity for us to rethink what a hymnal can and should be in our context.

As usual, my friend Jeremy got me thinking about what such a hymnal might look like. But it was a Facebooker named Steve who wrote down what I was thinking and so much more. His vision for the new Hymnal is something I would like to see embraced by United Methodists at a grassroots level as well as by the publishing house and the General Church.

Join the conversation! What would you like to see in a new Hymnal?

[editorial note: wow! my fingers haven’t had their coffee yet; i caught a ton of typos, but I’m sure I missed some.]

Finding Jesus

find-jesus1Every week, I have a to-do list for the various aspects of my job (Worship Service, Visitation, Meetings & Administration and so on).Yes, I realize that’s very type A of me. Mostly I just like to be able to cross stuff off. Parts of the list are pre-written, and copied so that some recurring things (like picking hymns or setting the altar or writing a sermon) are on every list, and then there’s space for me to add the specific tasks for that week, people to visit, and meetings to go to.

Like I said, Type A. I know.

This week, the handwritten portion of my worship list looks like this:

  • Find Jesus
  • Divide texts for readers
  • Pick time for Sonrise service
  • Begin Holy Week liturgy
  • Get noisemakers

Yes, that’s right, at the top of my list is ‘Find Jesus.’

Now, I mean that in a liturgical sense, as in find a person to act out Jesus for the little dramatic thing we’re working on. But it seems to me that I might want to add that to the list of things that stay on the to-do list all the time. Right at the beginning of the week, first thing off the bat: find Jesus, and don’t plan worship till you do!

Wonder if I’d ever cross it off? I don’t think we’re ever *done* finding Jesus.

Split Personality

Sorry, gentle readers, about the black hole of post-Christmas, post-family-crisis time I slipped into. Thanks for tuning back in.

Christmas Eve services at my two churches were special, each in their own way. The sermon was the same, and a lot of the hymns were good old standby Christmas hymns, and each ended with candle-lighting and “silent night.” But the spirit of each service was unique and, in its way, perfect for them and for me.

At Trinity, the service was a celebratory affair with about 120 people. There was a lot of music, sing by a large choir and a few soloists. There was a children’s time, where I had all the kids (and all the congregation) make animal sounds to imitate the chaos into which Jesus was born (and I made my family be the camels). We read a litany of Las Posadas, making room for the Holy Family. There was a visual projection with text and modern pictures representing the Christmas story in some interesting ways. After “Silent Night,” we sang “Joy to the World,” and people chattered together down the stairs and out into the icy night, lit with luminaries.

At Grace, it was a different service. Not better; not worse. Different. It was a traditional service of Lessons and Carols, telling the story of God’s promised deliverance and the birth of Jesus. Readers stood where they were and read their passages, and nearly everyone had one to read, since there were about twelve people present. We sang a few verses of eight different hymns. At about quarter of midnight, we formed a small circle and lit our candles from the Christ Candle, and sang “Silent Night.” I gave a benediction, and people filed out of the anctuary silently, extinguishing their candles only after they crossed the threashold into the foyer. Several people stayed behind to strip the altar of the Christmas Eve stuff and reset it for Sunday. They too worked in silence, and only when the last person left the sanctuary was the Christ Candle finally, reverently, extinguished.

In the car on the way home, my husband (who had been to Grace for the first time that night) laughed and said, “This really is the perfect match for you. About 75% of the time, you are exuberant and justice-oriented and go-get’um, and about 25% of the time you are prayerful and reverent and contemplative.”

It’s true, and in that sense, these churches and I seem perfectly matched. Except that I think I need to challenge by exuberent congregation to be more contempletive and my reverent congregation to be more go-get’um. So maybe I have my personality inverted for what I need to do.

And each of us have those tension in us– we’re all a little Martha and a little Mary, a little service and a little contemplation. The question is, how to we nurture our lesser gifts, and build wholeness and balance in our spiritual lives? How do we do this in the lives of our churches?


Feedback wanted

Hi folks, when you have a few free minutes (this week? ha!), could you do me a favor and check out my ‘Virtual Worship‘ link on Trinity UMC’s website?

For the second week in a row, we had little or no heat in the sanctuary, and this week there was a severe weather warning, so we went home from church early. I wanted a way for people to feel like they’ve participated even if they couldn’t make it to church or had to leave early due to weather (or temperatures below 50!), but I also wanted it to be engaging, and I’m finding text to be a hard way to do that.

This was something I was planning to leave up all the time, only changing prayers every once in a while (the sermon will be updated because it’s a link here), so it’s relatively low maintenance.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

Murphy’s Law Sunday

Well, I posted my most recent sermon, Handful of Sparrows. Sermons are now in 64kb, which means longer download time for anyone on dialup, but a more standard podcast quality. Which of course means you can hear my mic feedback at a higher quality now. Yeah, sorry about that.

Some Sundays the world just seems not to want things to go well. Microphone problems and PowerPoint problems were in full force. I felt distracted and out of sorts, and still a bit mopey. Maybe it was the weather, because a tremendous thunderstorm erupted about a third of the way into the sermon.

I’m never sure. Should one interpret thunder claps as applause or dissent when one is preaching?

I’m bloody exhausted.Thankyou thankyou thankyou for Sabbath Mondays.