On All Saints Day 2009 an Ordination Service was celebrated by the Northern Illinois Synod, E.L.C.A. at First Lutheran Church in Rockford, Illinois. It was a joyous occasion as Ordinands, families and friends, members of the congregations being served by these new Pastors, and colleagues in ministry gathered to observe and affirm their responses to the Call!
Sitting in that historic sanctuary there were many thoughts and feelings. One was to recall my own ordination back in 1957 – and to recall the admonition of our preacher that “one cannot be a good pastor and a poor father or a poor husband!” The only change needed in 2009 would be “or a poor mother or a poor wife”. One cannot use ministry as an excuse from the responsibilities that go with marriage and parenting.
There were at least two other thoughts which drew me to reflecting.
The First Lutheran Congregation and Edifice.
The First Lutheran Church confronts one with its awesomeness even from the parking lot. Twin bell towers stand at her entrance and the sanctuary, offices and parking lot occupy almost 2 city blocks! This sense of awe continues when you enter the Nave. Deep, dark wood, a surrounding balcony, and a center altar and pulpit help create an inner peace and a sense of security.
The congregation dates back 155 years, while the sanctuary dates back 140 years! While reflecting on that history I became aware that these men and women did not come as immigrants to “do” church – they came to “be” the church. “Church“ is not something one does one day a week. The beliefs and values and priorities were lived seven days a week. Their hard work built a community in which manufacturing enabled families to grow and flourish. Their sense of “communion” started a bank so as to enable folks to buy homes, get through tough times, and finance creative inventiveness. Their sense of “call” kept them true to their values in the work place as well. Profits were important – but profit at the expense of one’s neighbors was wrong. Re-investing those profits in parks and other community ventures was the “value” – not greed!
And one further thought on how they “are” church – they continue to minister even though the neighborhood and the community have vastly changed! At that Ordination Service a Children’s Choir sang and instrumentalists joined with the organ to lead the worshippers “lift up their voices”.
The Presence of Colleagues in Ministry.
Approximately 30 brothers and sisters in ministry wore their robes and joined the occasion as witnesses. Lutherans, United Church in Christ, Episcopal, Clergy and Associates in Ministry led the procession into the Sanctuary! Together they represented more than 500 years of experience!
The 17th verse of Luke 10 [the chosen Gospel] reminds us that after the 70 labored in the “towns and places where Jesus had intended to go” – they returned as a group!
The Presence of so many “colleagues in ministry” testifies to an important lesson for all in ministry. We do not serve as Lone Rangers! We are there for each other - to study together, to share ideas, to support each other when the going gets rough, and, even, to correct each other when our ministries stray off track.
I hope Carrie, Theresa and Sarah will keep these reflections in their memory banks as they begin ministry as “ordained” clergy. That they are part of a wonderful and mighty historic legacy – and that they are not sent as lonely warriors, but as disciples who are many and to whom they can turn.