Tuesday, June 14, 2005

An Ordination to Remember

The ordination service for Gay and me was Sunday night. The service was very emotional and very moving. It wasn't perfect however. Shortly after the congregation started laying hands on us, I had to leave the service, sick with food poisoning, and all but one of the people staying with us were sick by the end of the evening. But, this is just one of those things that happens, and getting upset about it would just be silly.

Here is a copy of the remarks I made during the ordination:

I want to start by thanking the many people who have helped bring me to this point in my life. I was lucky enough to be brought up in a Christian household. My father was a deacon, and my mother worked in the nursery. I was also able to attend a Christian school, West Hillsborough Baptist. In fact, Paula Parker, Bayshore's pre-school director, was my third grade teacher and my principal after that. My family attended church nearly every Sunday, and I remember my brother and I trying to be the first one to see Bayshore's steeple. I remember attending Christmas Eve services here and nearly setting Jean Meadow's hair on fire one year. I attended childrens' choir on Wednesday nights, and can still remember some of the words to Rainbow Express and Down by the Creek Bank. I would not be the man I am today without the strong parenting my mother and father provided me.

I want to thank Tom Pinner, my pastor throughout high school and college. Tom has always been there for me whenever I have had questions or been struggling with something. During my college years, he invited me to breakfast at least once a year, just to see how I was doing. It was Tom's sermon on Christmas Eve 2003 that finally pushed me into accepting God's call into the ministry. Tom has been a part of nearly every major event in my life, and I am so pleased that he is able to be here tonight.

I want to thank Bayshore Baptist Church. Those of you who have not attended other Baptist churches recently, don't know what a unique church this is. Many of my beliefs are at odds with most other baptist churches, but at Bayshore I have found a place of encouragement and support for my spiritual journey. I especially want to thank Nancy Burke for her friendship over the past several years. For much of that time, Bayshore was without a pastor, and Nancy became the senior minister. However, she always had time for Gay and me whenever we needed to talk. Nancy was the one that first urged us to attend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Charlotte in 2003. It was this CBF meeting, more than any other single event, that influenced my call into ministry. At CBF, I realized that I was not alone in my beliefs. I was fellowshipping and worshiping with thousands of others with similar beliefs.

In November 2004, Gay and I visited 4 seminaries in 8 days. At the end of the trip, we were both sure that the Divinity School at Wake Forest University was where God was calling me. Ironically, this was not our first or even our second choice before the trip. I was accepted in December, and thanks to Wake Forest's endowment, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Leadership Scholarship, and a scholarship from Bayshore, I am proud to say that nearly all of my tuition is paid for. I chose Wake because I believe they have a program that combines rigorous academics with the practical experience I am going to need for my ministry.

I look at my entering the ministry as a start of a journey, possibly the toughest journey of my life. Although I don’t know exactly where the road is going to take me, there are a few turns I will not take. I will not take any turns that steer me away from the four fragile freedoms that identify us as Baptists. These freedoms, which have been under attack for nearly 20 years, have been well defined by Walter Shurden at Mercer University. Shurden says the first freedom is Bible Freedom, the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best as most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the scripture. The second freedom is soul freedom: the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government. The third freedom is church freedom: the Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part. The final freedom is Religious freedom: the Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion, insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar. I believe these distintives are vitally important to our future as Baptists.

I will also not take any turn that asks me to use the Bible or Jesus to oppress any group of people. Too often, tremendous evil has been done in the name of Jesus or with the “support of scripture.” Matthew 25:40 says: “Whatever you did to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did that to me. Imagine what the world would be like if we as individual believers, and the church as a whole took the time to measure our actions against this verse. And, Romans Chapter 8 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? I am convinced neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. So, who are we to say that anyone is separated from the love of God? I take the great commission seriously, we need to go and take the good news to everyone, not wait for them to come to us, or only take it to those we feel are worthy to receive it.

I will not take any turn that asks Christians to identify only with one political party and one narrow discussion of values. Instead, I will pave a new road with a new broad discussion about our values, one that includes biblical stances on war and peace, the environment, education, health care, and the single most mentioned social issue in the Bible, poverty. The church has lost its prophetic voice on these issues, and its time to bring it back.

I am so grateful that my wife, Gay, is going with me on this journey. I cannot imagine a more perfect partner to help me along the way. She is not just my wife, she is my teammate. Whenever I have been afraid, she has reassured me. Whenever I have had doubt, she supported me. And whenever I have met resistance, she gave me the gentle push I needed to get through it. Gay, I love you; you are the biggest blessing God has given me. I know our journey is going to be hard, but I know together we can get through it, and even have some fun along the way.

I want to leave you with a quote Dr. Bill Leonard, the Dean of Wake Forest Divinity School, read to us during our visit. Frederick Beuchner's Book, The Alphabet of Grace has a paragraph toward the end of the book that describes a call into ministry. It moved me to tears during the luncheon, but it describes much more eloquently than I can what the past couple of years have been like for me.

"I hear you are entering the ministry," the woman said down the long table, meaning no real harm. "Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised?" And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else's. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching of the feet. It was a stirring in the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for, even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a high and driving peace. I will condemn you to death.

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