In the past nine days I attended two seminary graduations, three worship services where we blessed graduates, and one live-stream ordination. Each event gave me a sense of joy. Yet the joy was also rooted in something more complicated. Something of the impossible.
On Friday at Union Theological Seminary celebrated its 184th Graduation. In the final chapel service of the academic year in James Chapel, a theme emerged…
We are living in an impossible world.
The accumulation of impossibilities feels like an avalanche — in these nine days alone. It nearly paralyzed me from knowing what to say to you here on the blog this morning. I cannot speak hope or joy or promise without first acknowledging the messed up and broken state of this impossible time in the world.
A Broken, Dying World
- the Southern Baptist Convention report on sexual abuse and the efforts to cover it up over the past 20+ years came out Sunday; the full Guidepost Solutions report can be viewed here
- in the US we passed the heart-breaking mark of one million deaths from Covid-19
- another devastating loss of Black lives was an expression of white Christian nationalism in a shooting in Buffalo, NY, robbing life from 10 people while they were grocery shopping
- the exploding mental health crisis among children, teens and adults
- the apparent impending loss of women’s rights and reproductive justice for their own bodies
- a history of destroying Indigenous Peoples through assimilation in boarding schools is finally coming to light
- the war in Ukraine has taken more than 3,800 civilian lives including 256 children
- climate crisis events keep expanding and time to make change is running out
- an urgent crisis for infants and parents is unfolding in grocery stores where shelves remain empty of baby formula
- and many more impossible situations
Nevertheless. Impossible is NOT the final word.
Even in the midst of all these impossible situations, God calls and empowers us with love. Enlivens people with joy. And keeps extending callings to people to live and lead with holy fierceness. Graduations and ordinations keep happening.
Sunday I attended the ordination of Rev. Sara Gush Tolfree by livestream. Sara is a graduate of Union and a hospital chaplain. She was both a student and then a splendid class assistant for me in 2020 during the first pandemic lock-down. In the ordination sermon, Rev. Sadie Lansdale reminded Sara, and all of us, to make time each day for joy in our bodies and to find ways to share good news.
The world is a very messed up place.
Still God loves us somehow. And that is good news. God is still calling people, prodding them, luring, cajoling, and wooing them. That is also good news. God keeps showing up with and between us in our community-making and justice-advocating and pastoral caring. And that is very good news.
And so in this impossible world of brokenness and suffering, I offer this prayer of blessing for everyone receiving ordination for ministry.
An Ordination Blessing for Impossible Times
Bless you on this day. We acknowledge your gifts, calling, preparation, and your readiness for the practice of ministry.
Give thanks for both obvious and hidden support from family and friends, beloved ones and ancestors, frenemies and peers,
professors and mentors.
Lean wholeheartedly into inter-generational transformation
and healing for yourself and the world.
Remember ministry is not merely a profession. Yet being professional can be a useful path. Ministry is not mainly a job, yet all people who share the work deserve dignity, respect, and fair compensation.
At its heart ministry is a spiritual practice, cultivated across time and with experience, missteps, and course corrections. Pay attention to your body, your relationships, your habits, and your energy.
The world you serve is impossible, broken, harmful, and full of suffering. The world is also beautiful, magnificent, buzzing with life, and full of joy.
Your calling is to hold all these pieces, to bear witness, to do no harm, and when possible to extend love.
When you accept the mantle of ordination, you become a steward of mysteries and a sentinel of power. Hold each lightly and with love, humility, and kindness. And if your social location leads people to disrespect, underpay, or seek to harm you, then speak truth to power. And join hands with people who will have your back and you, theirs.
May your teaching and preaching, praying and justice-making, worshiping and administrating be inspirited by the sacred. May you speak courageously and act with holy fierceness.
Ask honest questions, listen deeply, and continue learning.
In all things cultivate your gifts, be ready to improvise, and nourish your pastoral imagination. May you become the loving and wise leader the world needs.
© Eileen Campbell-Reed, 2022
Would you like to download a PDF of this blessing to share in an ordination service or give to a new minister? Just fill out this form and the download is yours!
Are you ready to dive deeper into what it means to cultivate pastoral imagination in your practice of ministry? See if the course is right for you by visiting Faith + Lead. The Pastoral Imagination book is included and CEUs are available. The four week course takes place in July.