Today in worship we ordained and installed church officers – deacons, and one elder, mostly folks who are filling out unexpired terms for people who have fallen ill or have had to resign their position due to the sudden eruption of family demands.
Taking responsibility in any organization is demanding. If the organization is your church and you take the spiritual side of the work seriously, along with the time management and basic competence pieces, the demand is arguably even greater. So I am frankly grateful to anyone who will say “yes” to that call to be a church officer.
The constitutional questions for ordination ask a lot of people, too. They are so daunting that one big component of officer training involves getting people past the initial reaction of “holy cow, I can’t say yes to that!” Anyone who has ever been ordained to one of these offices, deacon or elder, and in a small church that will be almost everyone, is reminded of these questions and answers at least as often as others stand up in front of the congregation and answer them:
a) Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Creator, Son and Holy Spirit? (I do)
b) Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you? (I do)
c) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God? (I do)
d) Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions? (I will)
e) Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit? (I will)
f) Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world? (I will)
g) Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?
h) Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? (I will)
The “I wills” are always “with God’s help.” That makes it a little easier to answer in the affirmative and feel like we’re telling the truth.
Deacons and elders also get questions specific to their offices:
(For elder) Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
(For deacon) Will you be a faithful deacon, teaching charity, urging concern, and directing the people’s help to the friendless and those in need, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
“The love and justice of Jesus Christ.”
Who can say yes to this? How does anyone say yes to this? “With God’s help.” That’s for sure.
And finally, the congregation makes affirmations as part of this, too – since the call comes through the congregation, and since this is a communal endeavor:
a. Do we, the members of the church, accept [these individuals] as ruling elders or deacons, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ? (We do.)
b. Do we agree to pray for them, to encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church? (We do.)
And then, we lay on hands and pray:
(Minister) Loving God, You have created by Your Holy Spirit a Church that inspires women and men to serve Your purposes of love. We give You thanks that by Your grace you have called these Your servants to lead and care for Your people. Through the gift of Your Spirit, grant that their hearts may be filled with love for You and for everyone committed to their care in this church. Give them vision to discern Your purposes for this Church and for the world that You love.
(Congregation) Holy Jesus Christ, You called us to a common ministry. You trusted us with the messages of care, compassion, and reconciliation. Give us courage to follow where Your servants rightly lead us, so together we may declare Your wonderful deeds and show Your love to the world, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, we did this today, in worship. It’s not “routine,” but it is familiar in our congregation. Momentous, yes, but also familiar. It’s what we do.
But this morning, one of the newest members of the congregation, who came from a different denomination and for whom it was not familiar at all, was being the liturgist, which gave him an opportunity to say, when it was all over and everyone had been congratulated and thanked and had gone back to their pews and choir lofts and when it was time for him to call for the offering, “Wow! That was beautiful! I wondered how you – we – did things here – and that was – amazing.”
So this morning, this momentous and familiar ceremony came with the extra grace of someone reminding us to notice it, how amazing this is: that regular people, we, are called to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ, and are given the power to do it, and make the daily effort to live into that call.
And even, from time to time, succeed.