On September 24, 2017, I had the amazing privilege of being ordained for ministry in the American Baptist Church (ABC). God’s grace, faithfulness and gentle leading has brought me, and my family, to this point. I also had the privilege of putting together the ordination service. I used a traditional order of service, yet I selected the readings, hymns, and people who participated. Each has a special place in my heart, so here are a few thoughts on each part of the service. [See below for a video of the entire service]
1. Call to worship: Psalm 138 – Rev. Kathleen Blackey (FBC South Londonderry)
Psalm 138:8 has been a very important verse to me as I’ve followed this journey to pastoral ministry. It says: The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. I’ve prayed this verse over and over again, especially during the times of fear and doubts. I’ve had my share of low-lights, and yet God’s purposes for me are being fulfilled: not by me, but by him. He has not forsaken his work, nor will he ever. So I selected this Psalm to open our service. The reader was Kathleen Blackey, who is co-pastor (with her husband Chris) of First Baptist Church of South Londonderry, VT. Kathleen and Chris were among the first ABC pastors I met as I was exploring God’s leading to this branch of the church. Their love and faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus was a significant encouragement to me as I took steps forward, and their friendship and support continues to encourage.
2. Invocation and Lord’s Prayer – Rev. Ed Blue (Missionary Alliance Church, Bennington)
Pastor Ed is my closest pastor friend and mentor here in Bennington. As we, and others, gather weekly to pray together, I have learned much about ministry in Bennington through him. He’s seen and done it all, and remains faithful to the call to the kingdom here in this town. It is an honor to partner with him in ministry, and to have him lead prayer during the service.
3. Hymn – 10,000 Reasons
This is a favorite modern hymn, and it was an amazing experience to lead this song with so many people loudly praising God together. I first heard this song, if I recall correctly, not long ago during an Easter worship service at Missio Dei Church in Portland, Maine. I was at an all-time low in my faith, and had basically given up on the call to ministry. After a period of waywardness, I’d repented and wanted to turn around, but felt hopeless and helpless. But God used this song to penetrate my heart during that worship service, and I simply wept, and have never really been the same. By now the song is in danger of being overplayed, but it will always mark a significant milestone for me, and a source of joy.
4. Scripture – 2 Timothy 4:1-5 – Ms. Lisa Flynn, FBC Trustees Chair
This scripture passage has Paul exhorting his young apprentice to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” This is a word I constantly need to remember, as it is far too easy to major in the minors, and miss out on my primary calling: to preach the word. And I am often too passive, so I need the encouragement to “reprove, rebuke and exhort,” not to mention the patience to keep at it. Lisa Flynn read this passage for us. She is the chair of the FBC trustees, was also my first contact with FBC when they were searching for a pastor, so she will always hold a special place for me.
5. Scripture – 1 Peter 5:1-11 – Ms. Cindy Marsh, FBC Church Life Board Chair
This scripture includes the exhortation to “shepherd the flock that is among you.” This is a reminder that we are sheep, and Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and I am called to be a “under-shepherd.” I am not called to another flock or task, I am called to this flock. Cindy is the chair of our Church Life Board (akin to deacons at most churches) and her depth of faith and her cheerfulness is always an inspiration to me.
6. Special Music – Holy (Jesus You Are) – Michelle Wiegers
Michelle sang this song for us, and it is always a joy to play together. This song has a special place in our story. When we were praying about answering the call to serve in this church, we were asking God for confirmation. We lived in Massachusetts and were a part of Calvary Baptist Church in Peabody and one Sunday we sang this song. During the song, Michelle was given a unique vision of a bird’s-eye flight through Bennington, and knew that we were being called to sing over this town. Immediately after the service, she had an amazed look on her face, and we both knew.
7. Sermon – Rev. Dale Edwards (ABCVNH Region Minister)
Humanly speaking, Dale is the one most responsible for calling me to serve here in Bennington. About halfway through seminary, through a series of relationships and conversations, and much prayer, I already knew God was calling me to pastoral ministry in New England. Where and how that would work out was a mystery, until I met Dale. He shared his vision for the renewal of historic churches (which I also learned from Jim Harrell), and God sunk that deep into my heart. So, as my region minister, I consider Dale to be my pastor. I’ve heard him preach several times now, and he is rightly renowned for his storytelling and his love for Jesus and the church. For this message, which was not only for me, but for our church, he had it dialed up to 11, so to speak (I should have told him the microphone was turned up high already). I only hope to follow in his footsteps.
8. Hymn – In Christ Alone
This is my favorite modern hymn, and every time I sing it I am reminded of the pastor and church that were most formative for me: Pastor Cal Boroughs and St. Elmo Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN. St. Elmo is where I first stepped into ministry, and first discovered my call to vocational ministry, and Cal wonderfully shepherded us with heavy doses of God’s grace. I first learned this song in St. Elmo, and would often tear up at the powerful line: “From life’s first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” I felt a little odd leading music so much at my own ordination service (usually the ordinand isn’t too involved), but then again leading music is a unique joy for me (and we don’t have any other music leader these days anyway).
9. Statement from the Ordination Council – Rev. Chris Blackey (FBC South Londonderry)
Chris was also a key to my calling to Vermont, as mentioned above, and he helped guide me through the ordination process, especially at my Ordination Council, which was a formative and incredibly encouraging experience.
10. Vows of Ordination
Taking these vows leaves me overwhelmed and trembling. I pray for God’s grace and strength to fulfill them as best as I can.
11. Laying on of Hands and Ordination Prayer
It was a moving experience to be prayed over and have those called and ordained to ministry come to lay hands on me to invite God’s power to fill me for his calling. Many denominations and traditions were represented (Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Assemblies of God, Alliance and even UU). To me this represents the world-wide (and even history-wide) church, and I now find myself in a stream of those called to Christian ministry that has been flowing for 2,000 years. Immediately after these prayers and the declaration of ordination, I felt an unusual heat in my belly, which I can only understand as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in answer to those prayers.
12. Special Music – Impossible Shore – Pastor Kyle Sandison (Faith Community Church, Wyckoff, NJ)
Kyle was, and is, my closest friend from our time in seminary. We met in our first Greek class, and quickly bonded over our mutual love for mandolins and guitars. We were there for eachother during incredible challenges during seminary, and it is so wonderful to continue walking together. The song we sang is based on Joshua 1:9, and was written by Kyle. When he first came to our seminary apartment to hang out, he saw that verse on our wall and mentioned he wrote a song about it, and I knew then we had something special. In an odd and entertaining twist of providence, he is now serving as a pastor in the town my dad grew up in.
13. The Charge to the Minister – Rev. Seth Anderson (Trinity Presbyterian Church, St. Albans)
For the vast majority of my life I’ve been Presbyterian: as a kid, an adult, an elder in the church, and eventually on the ordination track. Seth became my mentor in the Northern New England Presbytery when we moved to Maine for a ministry internship. When the internship fell apart, my soul and my calling were nearly shipwrecked, but Seth became a lifeline for me. God used him to revive my calling and set me back on the path, for which I will be forever grateful. The words from the scripture to me in the charge are all the more special coming from Seth.
14. The Charge to the Church – Rev. David Anderson (FBC North Adams)
Dave has quickly become a key mentor of mine, as he has “been there, done that” and is faithfully continuing church renewal ministry here in the area. His church, just a few towns south of us, is very much like ours, but about 10 years ahead in the renewal process, so I take much encouragement and inspiration from how God is using him to build the kingdom. Dave’s charge to the church was exceptionally powerful.
15. Hymn – Be Thou My Vision
My only regret about the service was that I was unable to get an organist to play this hymn for us (our occasional organist was unavailable). Even so, I selected this hymn because not only is it a longtime favorite, but it is a prayer to make Jesus our vision. As I move forward in this calling, I need to get a clearer vision of Jesus himself.
16. Benediction – Rev. Bob Wiegers
It is tradition for the newly-ordained to give the benediction at the end of the service. I selected a non-traditional benediction that has been significant to me since seminary, since it speaks of the abundance hope that God gives us: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13) I was especially thinking of our friends and neighbors who joined us for this service, as it is my prayer that they, as well as all of us, experience the abundance of hope we find in Jesus.
17. Dinner – FBC
To punctuate our time together, the church hosted a wonderful meal, which many helped with. Thanks especially to Ron who provided and cooked all the food, and thanks to many others who worked hard to make it special. I’m running out of superlatives, but it really was a fabulous time, and such an encouragement to have so many loved ones come and support me and the family and our church: family, church family, old friends, new friends, seminary friends, pastor friends, AA friends, neighborhood friends — it was overwhelming.
I’ve been pastor here for almost two years now, so nothing changed in my day-to-day work after the ordination, but then again, everything changed: God’s Spirit came to me, and confirmed in me, the awesome calling I’ve been given to preach the gospel and shepherd the flock here in Bennington. I am now all the more eager to follow our Good Shepherd. He used the prayer and support of many to get me this far, and the prayer and support of all those who gathered, whether in person or not, continue to propel me forward.