A high bar to ministry

I spent an hour today in a committee meeting.

That may be the most uninspiring opening sentence of any piece of writing ever. But as much as meetings in general suck the life out of human beings, I want to put in a good word for what gets done sometimes. And this one – a meeting of the Church & Ministry Committee of the Western Association, of the New York Conference, of the United Church of Christ – reminded me that it’s a life-affirming combination when good people seek to do God’s work.

The occasion was an interview with a woman whose Member in Discernment mentor I’ve been for some years now. (Member in Discernment is the UCC’s moniker for anyone in seminary or otherwise preparing for ordination to called ministry.) I am a big fan of my mentee, who did a student ministry gig at Amherst Community Church when I was the pastor there. She’s already working in a church and doing great things in ministry.

Anyway, she’s almost to the end of her journey toward ordination. She has written an ordination paper (36 pages!) detailing her call to ministry, her theology and her understanding of UCC polity, and at this meeting the committee gave her a bunch of detailed feedback. They didn’t understand this word or that; there should be more in this section and less in that; what did she really mean by “redemption”? Like that.

She’ll have to make those edits, think more carefully in some parts, and come back to Church & Ministry with a final version. There will follow an Ecclesiastical Council, a public interrogation at which anyone in the Western Association can question her about anything, after which the gathered body will vote on her fitness for ordination.

Lot of rigmarole, right? But a lot of joy, too. Because the committee, both ordained people and laypeople, was there to celebrate God’s call in this one life, and then to apply the highest standard they could to making sure this person rises to the highest standard as someone called to service “in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ.”

Seems like no one talks much about excellence these days. But that hour around a church conference table made me glad that the UCC takes excellence seriously in its ordained ministers, and then holds us to the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. As human beings, we will always fall short. But I’m glad the church we cherish insists on filling its pulpits with the best. God deserves nothing less.

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