I’ve reached the end of a long, crucial leg of an even longer spiritual journey. Last evening, after more than 12 years in the making, I learned I will be ordained as a “deacon in full connection” with The United Methodist Church.
What does that mean, exactly? In the UMC, clergy can take the route of “elder” (those who pastor churches full-time) or “deacon” (those who serve in concentrated areas of ministry, in the church or beyond the congregational walls). Each path is of equal standing, albeit with differing functions.
Since 2000, when I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with my Master of Divinity, I have been a “commissioned” pastor licensed to preach, officiate weddings and funerals, provide spiritual care to people and carry out various other pastoral duties. Commissioning precedes ordination, which is the final credentialing that offers permanent status—sort of like tenure—as professional clergy with the denomination. Ordination is viewed as a sacred, unbroken line of God-granted spiritual leadership, stretching from Jesus Christ and the Apostles through clergy across the ages and symbolized by the laying of a Bishop’s hands upon the prepared candidate.
After many years on the elder path, I switched to the deacon route a few years back and have since then viewed my ministry as the work I do in corporate America and my writing and speaking endeavors. Many times I have felt that I am carving a new niche, and it has been a wonder to see things unfold.
My road to ordination, which I will be formally granted during a ceremony on May 30 in Lakeland, Fla., began in 1995 when I experienced tremendous spiritual growth and felt a stirring to visit theological seminaries. After being accepted by Asbury, I formally connected through my church in Ormond Beach, Fla., with the denominational process for ordination. In addition to my professional work since 2000, this process has involved numerous meetings across the years with clergy boards; some counseling services; a summer as a hospital chaplain; several public speaking seminars; seminary itself, a 90-plus-hour professional graduate program; and lots of essay writing and reflection.
I took some time off from the process earlier this decade after deciding to move from full-time local church work to the marketplace. As I began to intensify my organizational development work, it became clear that the deacon path was the best fit for me. The denomination agreed, and last night’s meeting with the UMC’s Board of Ordained Ministry in Florida was the final step before ordination.
I had a lively, challenging discussion with the Board and its 50 or so members (a combination of clergy and laypersons). The deacon path I have chosen in the marketplace is relatively unpaved, and our dialogue necessitated me painting a portrait of how God has been utilizing me to build a bridge between the pews and the cubicles. The Board had a tough decision, and I applaud its thoroughness.
I truly believe this is the direction that organized religion will find itself moving, as a post-denominational culture continues to emerge and younger generations seek non-traditional venues for growing in their faith. “Church” will become less and less about brick-and-mortar and more about relationships amid social and professional networks.
During the last few years I have sought to be a positive light for Christ in the stressful and rapidly changing business arena, serving in financial services, health care and now telecommunications. What I have observed is a deep spiritual hunger among people striving to make a living, and that by serving them well in practical and relevant ways—with authenticity—the opportunities to discuss deeper matters of the spirit abound, and the artificial walls between the church and the marketplace evaporate. We simply become people, free of our categories.
I don’t know what all of this will look like in 10 or even five years. I am certain, however, that my purpose is to constantly grow in self-awareness, competencies and relationships…and allow God to open the doors that enable me to leverage the power of words to help others thrive and discover timeless truths.