Dear Disciple of Christ,
Do you know the difference between an “ordination” and an “installation?” One is done once in a lifetime and one may be done again and again. All pastors are ordained once (unless they “switch” denominations) and installation happens whenever someone begins in a new church setting. You’re right if you’re thinking this seems to be more than simply a person getting a new “job.” It IS a new location for serving (like when you go from one job to another), but, although there are similarities to changing “jobs”, the installation of a pastor is different. It is a significant action on the part of the Church Universal.
Most congregations, when they are in need of a pastor (with the previous pastor either having left or having died or if an additional pastor is needed), are required to go through a “call process.” This includes an initial review on the part of the community to consider where they have come from (in their community journey) and where they currently are and, finally, where they believe God is calling them to go. Are they content in the path they are on to serve the Lord? Are they seeking a new direction? These are important questions because they will identify for the “call committee” (a “sub-group” of the congregation) the pastor they recommend to the congregation. Prayerfully they will seek a pastoral leader who will guide and assist them as the move off into the future.
That “calling” of a pastor is specific to the responsibility of the congregation. In our Lutheran practice and policy, pastors are not “self-made.” Those who have completed their studies for pastoral leadership are available for a call (again, if recommended by the seminary and the national church body in which they will serve and a local congregation). Officially, a graduate of a seminary with a master’s degree in theology is a “reverend” (that’s where the “Rev.” before a pastor’s name comes from). But the term “pastor” is reserved for a reverend who has been called and “ordained” by a congregation on behalf of the Church (note the capital “C”) at large.
In the service of “ordination” there are a number of actions that certify the “graduate” (from seminary) as being qualified for ordination. Most often (in our Lutheran tradition), the bishop (or representative of the bishop) asks for various “proofs” that the ordination can take place including paperwork indicating completion of studies as well as certification of call. That “certification of call” indicates a vote was taken by the congregation to extend the call to this particular person. If it sounds “convoluted,” it may seem to be that way, but its formality suggests also a seriousness in the process. It isn’t all about the person becoming a pastor as much as it is also a reminder to the community of faith as to just how significant their role is. By virtue of their gathering around Word and sacrament, they have the responsibility and authority to move a person from an academic position (graduate from studies) to a servant position (“pastor” literally meaning “shepherd”).
So the ordination service brings together a community of faith, representatives of the Church at large and a person prepared by the Church for service in the Church. Another symbol of that action is the presence of another pastor of the church who “presents” that person to the congregation and the Church at large. The person about to be ordained can select one person who had been instrumental in their grasp of the position or their training for the position of pastor. In my case, I was blessed to be able to have my very first influential pastor/professor present me to the church. He was my Greek professor from Junior College eight years earlier. So Pastor Carl Weidmann and I walked slowly down the center aisle of Trinity Lutheran Church of Flatbush (Brooklyn) to come before the gathered community and make a profession of my faith. I was honored that he was willing (and able since he was quite advanced in age and suffering from cancer).
And so, after eight years of study and seven months of waiting, on December 21st, 1975, on a snowy afternoon in Brooklyn, a small group of disciples from the congregation, and a group of professors (from my college and seminary) and pastors (from neighboring churches) gathered around a graduate, laid hands on his head and shoulders and, as God had ordained, set me aside for service in the Church as a pastor. In my head and mind was a connection between my first calling (that of being baptized) and that of my third calling (the second being my “call” as husband to my wife), that these three calls were for a lifetime. Like in the case of Jeremiah, pastors are called by the One who knows them (Jeremiah 1:5) and, even before they were in the womb, before a congregation called us, He called us. It makes that ordination of life-long significance and responsibility. We have responsibility to serve a congregation in the name of Christ. We shepherds serve the Good Shepherd and had better do that “in fear and trembling” for it is a mighty and gracious God we serve and His love for His people had better be what flows through our lives to those disciples of His.
May the Lord who called and consecrated each of us in baptism, empower our serving Him in His name.
Peace in His service,
Scripture Readings for Friday, February 3rd:
Psalm 112:1-9; Isaiah 29:1-12; James 3:13-18