Summer is the season for many things. Vacations. Weddings. Cookouts. All these apply to ministers too. But for many ministers, summer is also the season for ordinations. Those of us who are ordained have the honor of participating in the ordination of others. I am serving in one such service this week, and I count it a highlight of my summer.
In addition to sharing in such a special day for the ordinand, an ordination service is also an opportunity to renew my own ordination vows. It also invariably gets me thinking about the significance of ordination in general.
While reminiscing, I found this old post I wrote the week after my own ordination six years ago this month. I’m not sure I agree with all of it any more (which is itself instructive, given how sure I was at the time!). But I stand by the sketching of options and the special significance of the third option with which I aligned, and continue to align, myself. I am especially struck by the opportunity afforded me this week to live out the commitment I made in the final paragraph.
I re-post it here without revision for your consideration. Any thoughts?
This Sunday I got ordained. Beforehand my wife asked me what I was looking forward to the most about the service. I said that I was most looking forward to the laying on of hands by the other ministers. Why is this part of the act so special?
The laying on of hands was not special because I received some kind of special powers. I preached and administered the sacraments before my ordination and I will do so after without any substantive change. The ministry of the church does not require some special mystical power above and beyond the work of the Holy Spirit himself.
The laying on of hands could also be potentially significant as a symbol of the setting apart among the church for the role of equipping the saints. Now this is certainly an aspect of the act. But in my ordination experience, those who laid hands on me were the community of ministers, not the congregation as a whole. So the symbol in this instance is not so much being “set apart” as being “welcomed into.” Certainly I am being set apart by the church as a whole, but the laying on of hands symbolizes more.
What hit me at my ordination was that those who laid hands on me had received the laying on of hands from someone else, and so on and so on back through history. Now I do not need to committ myself to some idea of historical succession to be able to affirm the significance of a long chain of ministry that traces back to Jesus himself. The practice of laying on of hands is practiced in the New Testament and has been a consistent part of ordination services throughout Christian history. Whatever else it means, the laying on of hands symbolizes my induction into a historical community of set apart ministers. I became a link in a long chain of ministers.
The resultant attitude from this realization is that I am particularly excited to some day lay my own hands on an ordinand. I do not want my branch of the chain to end with my link. I feel compelled to continue the chain beyond myself.
What “happens” at ordination services?
What experiences or reflections have you had on such acts?
What is the meaning of the symbolic act of the laying on of hands?