In today’s New York Times, David Brooks gave words to something I’ve been struggling with lately. In his own words, it’s not about you.
It’s the concept I’ve been pondering as I just finished reading John McKnight and Peter Block’s The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods. Their question is similar. They are wondering how we claim community in this time and space. They argue that we go back to some old ideas — and they are old white guys so we forgive them for that. Old ideas or not, we’ve failed to grasp how our individual focus affects the broader community. We’ve failed to imagine how we transform ourselves with the whole world.
It’s a problem in ordination. It’s a question that arose last week as I sat with Members in Discernment listening to Beth Nordbeck challenge all of us in what it means to be ordained now. It was her task to push us on what we understand ordination to be. Beth is a church historian so she told us about history. She told us about what is happening in the United Church of Christ right now but she emphasized the historical question. Church people have always struggled with the question of whether ordination is functional (responds to a problem or need) or onotological (forever changes the individual’s core). I asked this question on Twitter. It turns out that most of my friends believe the latter. These are ordained people that respond. Let’s remember that. It seems that we ordained ministers see ourselves as changed from who we were to who we are now. That is what ordination does.
I understand that notion. In my own experience, I know that I feel like I was changed at the moment of my ordination but I have to ask that question that Brooks, McKnight and Block are asking. Was the whole community changed with me? What more did we come to imagine when I was ordained? What shifted our sense of the holy so we knew more about who we are and who we might be?
I know that my home church was thrilled to see me ordained. I know that my call was resonated in a community in South Portland, Maine. I know that these communities saw hope and potential in my own ability to say “yes” to this possibility, but I’m not so sure that it changed our very being. I think it might have been more functional. I’m not sure how to expand on that. It’s still unformed. And yet, as I consider what it means for anyone of us to be called into this life, I want that ontological shift. I want it for our college graduates, our members in discernment and anyone else that might dare say “yes” to possibility. I don’t want it just to happen to that person. I want it to change us all.