Thursday, July 07, 2005

Faith Works 7-16-05
Jeff Gill

Changing the Face of Ministry

John Thomas, the pastoral leader of the United Church of Christ (UCC), predicted this a few weeks ago. He knew that with the huge wave of publicity from their resolution affirming same-sex marriage, few would attend carefully to a concrete step they took with dramatic implications of its own.
The General Synod of the UCC may not be able to change laws about marriage, but they can say who qualifies for ordination, the status that makes someone qualified to preside over sacramental acts such as communion or baptism.
Most mainline/oldline Protestant denominations in the US have tended to follow the European model sometimes called the "4-3" track to ordination: four years of college to a bachelor’s degree, and three years at a seminary for graduate training, usually a "masters of divinity" or M.Div. before the administration of ordination by a church body.
What the UCC decision making body said was that "there may be other tracks" a candidate may follow to qualify for ordination. There was much language affirming that a seminary degree is still the "normative" path, and that few, special cases are what’s being affirmed. Many understand, though, that this is a major step which is likely to result in a large number of candidates presenting themselves for ordination after time as a licensed or lay minister, without the full set of degrees.
With clergy candidates coming out of seminary with student loan debt comparable to any master’s degree graduate, and a first year teacher with only a bachelor’s in Ohio making more than the average pastoral position, let alone an entry level position, the whole process of training and credentialing clergy is being shaken up and transformed.
For more sacramental traditions, the status of "ordained" is necessary to have someone who can preside at the communion table or perform baptisms. The title usually associated with ordination, "Reverend" is technically "the Reverend" since it is an adjective more than a term, describing a quality of the person now ordained, someone who can perform sacramental acts.
That’s also why a number of Protestant groups and their ministers tend to avoid or reject "Rev." such as Billy Graham, usually called "Dr. Graham" by those who want to be formal, but accurate. If the performance of sacramental activities is open to all baptized believers, then you don’t label the preacher as the Rev., but just say pastor or parson or Brother So-and-so.
Still, for groups like the UCC’s, United Methodists, Lutherans, and so on, the need for an ordained person is counterbalanced by the difficulty in supporting that level of education and the costs that implies for so many small and medium size congregations. Licensed ministry has filled a number of gaps in providing preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, but ordination is still required at communion and baptism, and preferred for weddings and funerals, by many faith communities.
So John Thomas was right: this is a major step, and one that will change the face of who can step into that spot behind the communion table for many churches. It will also impact the look of seminaries and denominational training programs in ways we still can’t even anticipate.
How do you see the face of ministry changing in your denomination?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; how have you experienced the changing face of ministry? Send your reactions to

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Faith Works 7-09-05
Jeff Gill

Rock the Vote, Rock Your Faith

U2 is a Christian rock band. You may not think of them that way, but they see themselves in that light.
Bono is a Christian, who believes that his faith, his music, and his commitments are all of a piece, a "seamless garment" as the saying goes. And his efforts leading up to the G8 summit and the Live8 concerts preceding it were an expression of that faith.
Bob Geldolf, organizer of the original "Live Aid" twenty years ago, has said that along with Bono, they need American evangelical help in addressing the needs of Africa because "they are the ones who get things done in international relief."
All of which has led to the startling sight of black and white TV ads with Pat Robertson and Dennis Hopper appearing in identical garb, sharing a common message; George Clooney and Rick Warren (looking like Mike Halter’s older brother!) both echoing each others’ words.
Evangelical Christians, as the influential magazine "Christianity Today" has recently said, are no longer outsiders looking in on the culture. In this country, at least, they cannot portray themselves as the put-upon, helpless victim. Faith may be trivialized and mocked in some quarters, but the stature and impact of vigorous Christianitiy is clearly evident in popular culture and running through the heart of society, even if not the primary motive force in daily life.
The editors of "Christianity Today" think that this means two main things: Christians should be very wary of getting "co-opted" by the dominant culture, which is not automatically going to emphasize the faith as believers would, and also that this is a time to offer the very best faith has to offer, not to coast on a social wave, assuming the spot on the crest will last. All waves hit the beach, sooner or later, and tumble everything topsy-turvy. looks like a good idea, and many clergy have "signed on" and affirmed to their congregations the ideas and ideals behind this shared effort for global debt relief and development assistance where properly managed. The tsunami relief campaign, with all due respect to former Presidents Bush and Clinton, was well on the way to one billion before they began their PR road show, largely due to overwhelming support by church-based relief groups.
While the UN issued statements and bureaucrats debated over packaging issues for "official" aid, WorldVision, Samaritan’s Purse, CWS/CROP, and Catholic Relief Services were on the ground and hard at work. The total effective relief number is approaching two billion.
On the other hand, the impact and effectiveness of a mobilized Christian sector of the population will attract many social groups and movements with their own agendas to try to hitch their wagons to the Bethlehem star.
So the challenge for a church in a neighborhood or village here in Licking County, for a region or conference or diocese in Ohio, or a denomination or national organization, is to take up the challenge of assessing for themselves where their influence is to be used, and how. What change do you want to make, and for what purpose, using which means?
Then and only then can you choose your allies and make broader alliances, some of which may very well be unlikely. If you know your vision and mission up front, and are honest and direct about that, no association is too outlandish.
But if the church (however defined) just wants to run with the cool kids on the block, then you may find yourself engaged in some activities you didn’t anticipate, wearing a sign or a button that undermines your own message, and may keep you out past your curfew, and over a line you forgot to draw in the first place.
What is the mission of your faith community, locally and globally, and what activities and alliances would logically proceed from that vision?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s worked with a wide variety of church groups to set a vision for ministry, and would love to hear yours: send them to

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