Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ordination Anniversary

Dundonald ParishIt really doesn't seem like three years have passed since my ordination as a Deacon - or that it was two years yesterday since my 'priesting.' As my time in Dundonald moves quickly towards its end (with just eight Sundays left in the parish), has ministry been what I imagined?

It's a question I'll continue to ask as the leaving date (and associated speeches and farewell sermons) comes closer. In the meantime, here are a few reflections on my first three years of ordained ministry.

1. The opportunity to be set apart to study God's word is amazing! It's a great privilege to be able to give myself to reading the Bible, studying the Bible, praying the Bible and teaching the Bible - and it's my 'job'! There could be nothing better than spending time in God's word.

The danger, of course, is that professionalism can so easily kick in, so that Bible reading is only done in order to prepare for the next speaking engagement. In that situation, the question switches from what is God saying to me (relating to change/repentance/growth/maturity etc) to what is God saying to them, bypassing me completely.
The Family
2. The opportunity to lead God's people in prayer is immense! To be able to help people to pray as a church family gathered together is special, as they join in the "Amen" or the "Hear our prayer".

You can so easily think that you're the one helping them pray, rather than the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus; or you pray impressive sounding prayers to show how very spiritual you are, just like the Pharisee in Luke 18.

3. The access into peoples' lives is perhaps unique, both for happy and sad occasions. The excitement of baptisms when a new life is just beginning; the joy of weddings (with the best view in the house); the sharing with those who are ill; the comforting those who mourn and sharing the gospel hope with them; few people are present at so many of these moments, or welcomed as ministers normally are.

The frequency of those occasions, though can, as the proverb suggests, can breed contempt. What has become regular and routine (if you're on your third funeral of the month) is still the one and only special service for Mrs Jones, so everything must be done decently and in order, no matter how ordinary.

There's also the risk of bottling it, and not saying the things that should be said; even not taking the gospel opportunities that are presented at the time or after.

4. Seeing individuals come to faith, or grow in faith is exciting! Through my time here we've seen some trust the Lord for the first time, making baby steps in faith; and others growing considerably in their faith, becoming more mature, and stepping up to lead and help and serve others. This is what it's all about!

The flipside is that it can be frustrating and almost soul destroying to see some walk away, or revert to sin, or let you down. People with so much potential, and yet they refuse to take that step. I'm learning that sometimes you have to leave people in God's hands - he may not be finished with them, but it could take years before they'll come back.

5. You get to know so many different people, and visit them in their homes. On our lists there are approximately 500 families, which amounts to 1200 people, roughly. The opportunities this presents are great, and the number of people you meet is huge, and all at different ages and stages.

One problem I've found is that my memory for names can be atrocious, so I need to work on knowing and remembering names.

Another issue is that there will always be more people I could be visiting. It could never stop. Knowing that means that I can be satisfied with what I can do, not how many I've missed in a day/week.

6. There's a real danger that you're always caught up in the urgent, and so miss the important. It can be so easy to work away, day after day, on what has to be done today, without looking at the big picture, without taking time to plan for the future, or develop.

Connected to this is the need for a proper Sabbath for ministers. If Sunday is our working day of leading/preaching/youthwork etc, then the need for one other day in the week for rest and restoration is vital. Yet even on the 'off' day, parish work can easily creep in.

Further connected to this is the proper space for family life. I'm still trying to learn this one, to carve out time with my wife and family, not thinking about work at all!

Today I'm thankful for God's grace over these past three years, and for the people I've come to know and the friends I've made through my ministry in Dundonald. I'm thankful for Tim, my rector, for the ways he has trained me, and for his patience on so many occasions! I'm praying for many more years of fruitful ministry, but conscious that it's all in God's hands.

As I look to the future, I'm reminded of those words from the ordination service:

Because none of us can bear the weight of this ministry in our own strength, but only by the grace and power of God, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these persons. Let us pray also that God will each day enlarge and enlighten their understanding of the Scriptures, so that they may grow stronger and more mature in their ministry, as they fashion their lives and the lives of the people they serve on the word of God.

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