Today is an occasion of reflection of what it has all meant.
- Historically my tradition has had an ambiguous stance towards the matter of “setting apart” or ordaining clergy. After all, are not all ordained and set aside for Christ’s work at baptism? An emphasis on mutual ministry and the priesthood of all believers has negated the need for a separate clergy class. The local congregation can equip and appoint people to perform any of the tasks a traditional minister can – counsel, preach, teach, baptise, preside over communion – so why ordain? On the other hand, churches, in order to thrive, have benefitted from those with particular training and honed skills to lead and “equip the saints for ministry.”
- My ordination culminated four years of intense study, formation, reflection, prayer and “hands on” work amongst local congregations. It involved dropping a career in retailing, self-funding four years of residential college and tuition, learning to become a student at tertiary level having dropped out of secondary school, and adapting to living in close community. It marked the emergence of a different person than had entered training, and a recognition by the wider church that such preparation had been worthwhile and adequate for the task ahead.
- There is an “on-going-ness” in the act that took place on that Melbourne platform. Formation and learning continue, formally and informally. In a way, seminary continues in the local congregation. Seeds mutually planted in my churches at Fremantle, Canberra, Modbury, Aldgate Valley and Wembley Downs took root and grew and yielded fruit. To sit at the 40 year marker and gaze back down through the decades is an exhilarating and humbling experience.
- My stance to ministry and faith has changed over the years. It has become deeper and more expansive. Labels and categories don’t bother me anymore – I can move freely through progressive, contemplative, charismatic, sacramental and evangelical fields of thought and being in my conversations and relations with others. Inter-faith possibilities I find inviting and engaging, where once I might have found them frightening and threatening.
- The last few weeks have seen efforts to trace and reconnect with those who shared the four year journey – the “Class of ’74.” We are far flung and have only had spasmodic contact over the years. Like an expanding universe, our individual trajectories have been vastly different and unique. Not all will be marking an anniversary of ordination, but all will attest to the transformational nature of the journey we shared. Our efforts to organise a reunion are a work in progress, but the negotiations and conversations by email, SMS and phone have that endearing and enduring quality of resuming an interrupted conversation that can easily be picked up again.
- The 40 years marks the time when my culture and economy says this is when one should draw up a pension plan and retire. 40 years is also the biblical “generation” suggesting that its time to pass the baton. I find myself resisting – not from denial of time’s relentless march – but from a sense of a task not yet complete. There is still fire in the belly and unfinished projects to see through to completion. There is also an openness to respond to whatever “new thing” emerges from current engagement. This momentary reflective pause is simply a “coffee break.” (Which is now over – so back to work!)