It has been almost 20 years since my ordination on May 3, 1998. This year it will be our congregation’s privilege to host the ordination service for Jon Coffee, our former ministerial intern and chaplain of pastoral care. The ceremony will be here at TVUUC on April 7 at 4 pm.
As part of the process of preparing for Jon’s service I have been looking over the order of service for my own ordination and reflecting on the meaning of the ritual. The congregation I served as student minister in Oxford, Ohio ordained me. They literally “called” me to the ministry through a literal phone call, “Would you consider being our minister?” I had preached there a few times as a seminary student but was surprised by the request. I sputtered a reply, “I am not ordained so I can’t be your minister.” The congregation called the Unitarian Universalist Association and in fairly short order I was the minister of the congregation as my official UUA internship site.
Ordination vows are kind of like wedding vows. You don’t really know what they mean until 20 years later or more. The words “for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health” are abstract when first uttered. Decades later the same words speak to specific stories and challenges encountered along the way. I was present on Jon’s wedding day and I feel blessed to also be a part of his ordination and look forward to witnessing his vows.
So, as I’ve said, I’ve been reflecting on my own vows in preparation for witnessing Jon take his. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you the words I spoke in Kumler Chapel, Oxford, Ohio. Almost twenty years ago.
“To the members and friends of the Hopedale Unitarian Universalist Community I say I accept this ministry which you have done so much to nurture, encourage and support. With humility and reverence I accept the joys and responsibilities of this most sacred mission: to make my life’s work a ministry of reconciliation, a ministry which forever seeks the reconciliation of all people to each other, to the Creation which nourishes us and so many other diverse forms of life and to the God in whom we live and move and have our being. And rest assured that wherever I go, wherever I am called to serve I will gratefully carry the spirit and the blessing of this community with me.”
Let me say for the record that I was a young man on that day but I’ve earned every white hair I’ve gotten since then. On April 7, 2018, at 4:00 pm our congregation will ordain another young man. I hope you will plan to be there. We may not even begin to know the full meaning of his vows until 2038 but we can be there in the beginning and we can send him the message that wherever he goes, wherever he might serve, he will carry the spirit and the blessing of this community with him always. May it be so.