Monday, May 11, 2009

Weighing In

A few of the koinonia faithful asked me what I think about the recent drama over Adam Walker-Cleveland's ordination struggles (other than my re-posting of other people's opinions). Fair enough. Though I somewhat doubt that opinions have mass appeal, I will share what I posted in the midst of over 100 other comments that appeared on Adam's initial post and Tony's most recent response (which is worth reading).

Here is what I wrote on Adam's blog:

5 Thoughts for You:

1. You got screwed. I’d be pissed if I were you. I’m sorry to read that the process unfolded this way.

2. I pray you don’t see this setback as a referendum on your abilities as a pastor. You are a gifted individual who has been called by God for the purpose of ministry. That work will continue, regardless of when / how / if the ordination process continues.

3. The system you entered into is no more sinful than any other human work.

4. On the whole, denominations (like the PCUSA) that have existed for a long time have done so with the best interest of the whole church in mind. I know that some of your friends believe denominational structures only exist to provide barriers to ministry. It doesn’t mean they’re always right…but it also doesn’t mean they’re always wrong.

5. Denominations need articulate, intelligent, gifted people (like you) to work for positive change in the organizations — not jump ship. Your work at Presbymergent is a testament to that. I believe that your role in PCUSA is not accidental…and that your network of connections and blog exposure (1000+ subscribers !?!?!) can help to shine a light on some of the problems of the ordination process. If you leave, you’re likely to be perceived by the “good old boys” within the PCUSA as just another malcontent who couldn’t handle authority.

All of my opinions aside, my prayers will be for God’s will to be done…and for you to be at peace in the midst of these turbulent waters of doubt and frustration. All the best…

And here's what I wrote on Tony Jones' blog:

What if...

...denominations didn't exist to oppress and abuse, but rather support, challenge, and provide accountability?

...a denomination empowered local congregations to identify future pastors and prepare them for a life of ministry by providing them with opportunities for leadership, service, and learning?

...local congregations were asked to surround pastoral candidates with prayer, acts of kindness, and financial support throughout the seminary process?

...candidacy committees met regularly with ordination candidates to ask about their journey through seminary and how they were continuing to hear God's call to ordained ministry?

...larger church-bodies stayed out of way throughout this process, unless the people who have walked along side an ordination candidate expressed concerns about emotional, intellectual, theological, sexual, or other boundary issues?

...the Masters of Divinity requirement existed to equip would-be pastors with a communal network of support, encouragement, and a rock-solid set of ministry tools that prepare them for congregational life?

The above questions are not hypothetical, Pollyanna, utopian questions. They explain is how my particular denomination functions. There are exceptions where abuse / misuse of the system has occurred...more often on the part of the ordination CANDIDATE than on the DENOMINATION. There are ways that we need to adapt the ordination process to ensure that we are putting pre-ordained folks on the best track to empower them for ministry. The process has been shaped over hundreds of years to provide care for the pastors AND the congregations those people serve.

I offer this, not in the hopes of convincing you that denominations are awesome...but to offer an example of how denominations can function in a beautiful way to give life to the whole church.

If you can sift through some of the raw emotion being expressed on the various blogs, I think there are some really good reflections on the ordination process in mainline denominations. I hope that "the powers that be" in the various church bodies are paying attention.