We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
O is for Ordination.
All Christians are called to be ministers of the Gospel. We are called to love God and our neighbour. We are called to pray, in love for God and for his world. We are all called to show people that in Jesus God came in a special way into our world, and that through his death and resurrection, we have the promise of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. All of us should know Our Lord’s teaching, and be able to speak of it to other people. We are all witnesses. We are all ministers. So why do we ordain people?
In the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Churches, through the centuries a ministry of bishops, priests and deacons has been handed down.
Bishops take their role from the apostles – those entrusted by Jesus with leadership, especially in teaching and discipline, and in the oversight of the church. Priest also see themselves as following on from the apostles, but more as local ‘shepherds’ – being the president at the eucharist, and having a ministry of forgiveness, teaching and prayer. And, of course, there are deacons. All the clergy in the Church of England are deacons, before they are anything else. But originally, the whole point of deacons was that they dealt with practical matters in the church, such as money for helping the poor. Deacons were appointed so that the apostles (bishops and priests) could concentrate on their main tasks.
All these roles, and always including the ministry of prayer, are not only for the ordained. You cannot have evangelism or sacraments or pastoral care only done by the clergy. But the clergy have a special responsibility to see that these things happen, and happen properly, in accordance with the teaching and traditions of the church. For all of us who are ordained, the journey to ordination is a long one, as it should be.
First, a sense of call to the person concerned is very important. Second, that call should be recognized by other people, so that there is not just one person’s view. Third, there is selection by the church locally and nationally, having looked at the person’s background, way of life, Christian experience and education. Personal circumstances must also be right. Fourth, the Church decides on training. Usually, in our Church, a degree if possible, and then 2 or 3 years of special training in college or on a course. Fifth, agreement by college and a bishop that the person is now suitable and trained enough to begin. Sixth, spiritual and practical preparation for the ordination – this is not a job, but an identity you take on for life, so everyone has to be sure it is right. Seventh, the laying on of hands by the bishop to ordain someone as a deacon, and their acceptance of the role, and the taking of vows. Eighth, service as a deacon for at least a year, before further selection and teaching, and ordination as a priest. The priest then serves two years before hearing confessions. At that point, the priest is fully fledged to serve the church. You see, it is quite a careful business, because ordination is to be taken seriously. But it is a privilege and a joy to be ordained, and that must not be forgotten.
If there are people thinking of ordination, do not be put off by all the steps I have outlined. The Church always wants more priests and deacons. So is you know of someone (yourself?) have a word with them. God does call the most surprising people!