Almost two years ago, on June 6, 2014, I was commissioned by Bishop Jonathan Keaton as a Provisional Elder in The United Methodist Church. After 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of seminary, and an interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry, this commissioning began two years of preparation for ordination.
This past February, I appeared before the Board of Ordained Ministry again for four, one-hour long interviews (Doctrinal, Sermon, Bible Study, Fruitfulness) to evaluate my growth and effectiveness in ministry and endless pages of written work I had prepared. Later that evening I received a phone call indicated that I had been approved by the Board for Ordination as an Elder. In that moment all the hard work, all the meetings, all the late nights, all the money invested, all the hoops…they were worth it. The call and giftedness from God that I knew in my heart was affirmed by my Church. I was ready for the celebration to begin.
Then, at the end of April, those of us being ordained (as well as those being commissioned) met with our Bishop in Springfield to prepare for the service. We worshiped, ate together and went over details of the service. In the midst of it, Bishop Keaton presented us with nineteen questions. As part of our general examination at Annual Conference, we would be expected to answer these nineteen historic questions:
You have indicated that you are convinced that you should enter the ministry of Christ’s holy Church. You have declared that you are willing to face any sacrifice that may be involved in the consecration of life. You have indicated that you are so situated in life that you can accept the obligations of the itinerant ministry. You have affirmed that you will respect the purity of life in body, mind, and spirit, and that you will keep before you as the one objective of your life the advancement of the reign of God. Remember the words of Christ, who said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” In accordance with the usage and Discipline of The United Methodist Church and the historic usages of our communion, and in the presence of this conference, I ask you:
- Have you faith in Christ? I have.
- Are you going on to perfection? I am, by the grace of God.
- Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? God willing, I do.
- Are you earnestly striving after it? With God’s help, I am.
- Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and to God’s work? I am so resolved.
- Do you know the General Rules of our Church? I do.
- Will you keep them? I will so endeavor.
- Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church? I have studied them.
- After full examination do you believe our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures? I believe that they are.
- Will you preach and maintain them? I will.
- Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? I have.
- Do you approve of our Church government and polity? I do so approve.
- Will you support and maintain them? I will, with God’s help.
- Will you diligently instruct the children in every place? I will.
- Will you visit from house to house? This is my commitment.
- Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example? I will so recommend.
- Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God? That is my intention.
- Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work? I am not.
- Will you observe the following directions? (a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. (b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake. The Lord being my helper, I will.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on these nineteen questions. I think of so many who have come before me who have answered these questions. I think of those who earnestly strove to keep these commitments. I think of those who were unable to keep them. In my reflection, it has become very clear to me that I do not want ordination to just be a “business transaction”. It’s about more than conference membership and the completion of formal study. It really is the beginning of a lifelong commitment to service to Christ’s Holy Church through The United Methodist Church.
I have nineteen days before ordination. Nineteen days to prepare myself spiritually to answer these nineteen questions. I can’t be the only one who has wrestled or is wrestling with the spiritual weight of preparation for ordination. So, one of the things that I’m doing to prepare myself for the day of ordination is to reflect deeply on each of these questions and I’ve decided to share those reflections here. Perhaps it may aid someone else in their own grappling with these important questions.
Later today, I’ll post about question one.