This morning it hit me. Next Thursday, I’ll wake up as a full Elder in the United Methodist Church. This journey has taken about eight years, and it has defined so much of my life during this time.
Next Wednesday night I’ll walk up the steps to the chancel area of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two other elders that I’ve invited will join the Bishop in placing their hands on me, carrying on the tradition that stretches across the centuries. The Revised Ordinal on Services for the Ordering of Ministry reminds us of the ancient connections of this practice with 2 Timothy 2:6, as Paul encourages Timothy to, “…rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”
I always wonder how people make this decision and why each ordinand chooses the people they choose. I’ve asked the pastor who really helped me discern my call to ordained ministry. Dr. Guy Ames was my first pastor in the United Methodist Church at Chapel Hill UMC in Oklahoma City. He helped me see the ministry as something I might actually be called to pursue. I often say that he was the first pastors I met who I saw as a real person. He could have been successful in any number of other fields, but chose to follow God’s call to ordained ministry. Until I met him, I had never even considered those thoughts about being called as anything significant.
The other elder who will stand with me is my District Superintendent, Dr. Sandy Wylie. Sandy has been a friend, mentor, and supporter throughout my first years of ministry. He’s been there for me during a few difficult times in my first years in ministry, and he’s helped affirm my gifts in many different ways.
However, it takes many more hands to make an Elder. In the ordinal I described earlier reminds us,
The rite of ordination is the climax of a process in which the faith community
discerns and validates the call, the gifts, and effectiveness for apostolic ministry
by agency of the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday evening will be the climax of a lengthy process that begins and ends with God through the support of community of faith. Because of the community of faith, there will be a thousand hands on my shoulders that evening.
I started to make a list beginning with my wife, describing my mother (who’ll be there that night) and my father (who died the October after I was commissioned), listing the mentors who took me through those early days of exploring the call, the churches I’ve served and attended, inlcuding the thirty-something little kids at VBS last night who signed a card for my ordination, and working through the extended list of colleagues and friends who’ve helped me in so many ways.
But as I was making this list, I realized how those people who accept awards on TV must feel! There’s no way I could mention every name. There’s no way I could count the number of hands that will be on my shoulders that night.
When I stand up after kneeling that night and receive my stole for the first time, I’ll be thinking about that multitude of hands. It takes at least a thousand hands to make an elder, and I thank God for every one.