First Third Conversations

Ordinations keep Seminary in Perspective

Adam Butler and Aaron Fuller

Saturday was a special day for one seminary grad and for the church. You see Saturday the ELCA hosted another ordination, publicly calling another M.Div. graduate into Word and sacrament ministry. He will serve a particular congregation, as he also serves the whole church.

For people who don’t hang out in seminaries, this seems like an odd thing to do on a nice summer Saturday afternoon. But for folks who spend days, weeks and years immersed in seminary life, this event is a reminder of the seminary’s primary call. Seminaries are graduate schools, institutions of higher learning, that’s true. But more than that, seminaries are an arm of the church, and their primary mission is to educate leaders for Christian communities of all kinds.

In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to forget one’s identity. And seminaries are not exempt from this reality. In the midst of teaching and attending classes, writing papers and grading exams, there are many times we lose sight of our calling – students and teachers alike. It’s true, not all seminary students are called to be pastors or to Word and sacrament ministry. But all students are called to be leaders. And regardless of the office of ministry one will have, the goal of seminary education is the same -- to equip leaders to serve communities in the world. This reality makes seminary education different than other education. It’s a call focused not on the individual student, but the communities in which that student will lead.

This Saturday current students, recent graduates, alumni, faculty, staff, and other church leaders gathered to stand with our brother, friend, and colleague to affirm and celebrate the next step in his leadership journey. As the ordination promises were read, we rejoiced with the candidate as we also saw ourselves and our callings woven into the promises read. Family and friends and other ministry leaders added their support, as they represented the church near and far. Regardless of numbers in attendance, ordination worship services are a big day in the life of the church as God’s people gather from a broad section of the church and mark this day in the life of the one ordained. And participating in such a service offers a particular view of church unlike any other.

Why is it important to mark these occasions? Why is seminary education needed? And why are ordinations and consecrations and commissioning, more significant to the church than graduations? Leading Christian ministry in this time and place is hard and complex. Being trained as a theologian and leader is critical. And being aware of the various dynamics present in our world today is key. Ours is a time when public Christian leaders equipped to serve in today’s world are desperately needed. And yes, the church calls and sends leaders every day, so why is celebrating one person’s call into pastoral ministry so important? Each person ordained, commissioned or consecrated states publicly their call to serve God in a particular local community, and the church as a whole, and the church, from various locates, publically states their support and commitment to this leader. Naming, marking, and celebrating public Christian leadership is an important role the church plays. How we do it matters less then that we do it.

Congregations, seminaries, and students … celebrate the leaders in your midst! Give thanks for them. Join them in leading and exploring ministry in this age. And thank God for their service and the call we all share of participating in God’s mission in the world.


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