It has been an unusually long time since I wrote a Faith Reflection.
This has largely been because I have been deeply engaged with what I have been doing over the last few weeks, but also because it has taken a bit of processing to come to terms with it.
You see, in addition to running our first one week Foundations course at the church and leading the church to run three Open Crowd festivals simultaneously across the city, and engaging with an annual planning retreat, I got ordained.
Since I started as a Pastor three years ago, I knew ordination was going to be something that needed to happen. It certainly was not something I had ever seriously thought about before starting at the church, and it was not something that naturally fitted my picture of myself.
Ordination is a recognition by both our local church and also by the denomination that I have been called to ministry in the church, and in particular to “called to a preaching or theological ministry.” At one level ordination is largely symbolic and doesn’t change my job at all.
In the lead up to the ordination service I really didn’t have much emotional space to process what was going to happen. I was quite surprised how big an impact the moment actually had on me.
That morning Leeanne had given me a plaque with the words of Matthew 6:33 painted in a black script on a white background. It was the verse that we had engraved on our wedding rings in 1994 and it was the verse that had been our point of orientation since that special moment. On the back of the plaque, Leeanne wrote:
I am up for the adventure… wherever it takes us. Let’s keep trying to live out this verse.
I am proud of my wife. She is one of the bravest people I know. Trying to “seek first the Kingdom of God” has not been simple for either of us. As regular readers of Faith Reflections would be aware, we served with international mission organization, Fusion, for 21 years, and had expected to be doing that for the rest of our lives.
The fact Leeanne wrote those words on the plaque on the day I was being ordained in a church in Canada, is a testament to how much she truly has been “up for the adventure.”
Leaving Fusion and beginning at the church had felt very strange, a strangeness that was only exacerbated by the fact we found ourselves living in a different country on a different continent.
For me personally I had felt as though I knew who I was for 20 years, and all of a sudden I wasn’t so sure. Working in a church felt very different to working with Fusion. It felt like my life had jumped tracks. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile all that I had been working towards for two decades with my current experience.
I clearly sensed it was right to be at the church, and was holding on to what I had written in my book 6 Radical Decisions (which I wrote about here) as a general direction for what I was working towards, however I often found myself feeling bewildered by this new reality.
I started to find my bearings as I began a journey of trying to understand the history of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. There was something striking about coming from one group of people who strongly believed they were called to be agents of the Kingdom of God, to another group of people who had been motivated by the same belief for over a century.
I think I was able to see aspects of the denomination’s history from a perspective that was a little different to those who had grown up in it. I wrote a paper about where the Alliance had come from and where I thought the future lay. The paper was called The Dawning of Third Epoch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada (You can read it here). I was encouraged by the feedback from the large number of people who read it (including most of the District leadership, the National President and the President of Ambrose University).
The process of writing the paper helped me start to glimpse how my experience with Fusion had actually prepared me for this moment. It was God’s grace to me personally that the ordination happened on the day that the first one week Foundations course happened in the church. One result of the course happening in that week was that Marty Woods, the European Director of Fusion, chose fly in for the week to become acquainted with some of the new Foundations material that I and others have been developing.
Marty was the Dean of Male Students when I did Fusion’s bible college course back in 1992. Having him able to be at my ordination, and able to share in the service, felt a bit like a closing of a loop. It was a bit like God squeezing my hand and saying “See, I have you in the right place. It has all been part of the same story, from 1992 to now.”
While the bigger picture engagement with the story of the Alliance, and also some level of closure with Fusion has helped me find my bearings, it has been the gradual way that the people of St. Albert Alliance church have found their way into my heart that most had me ready to respond positively when Tim Beadle asked me to affirm my calling. I started to adjust to the idea of not just being a pastor, but being their pastor.
In recognition of those who are being ordained, our church has a practise of purchasing a piece of art as a keepsake. Initially as Leeanne and I talked about what kind of artwork would be the most significant for us, and I quickly started talking about Australian landscapes. Both of us have felt quite homesick and particularly miss the Australian bush.
It was as I was driving to work one day I realized that while we will always be Aussies, this place has increasingly been becoming “home” and while there is still an ache for the sunburnt country, we needed to let ourselves be here.
Instead of an Australian landscape we talked about asking for a print from a friend of ours who had done a beautiful Edmonton city-scape, as a way of acknowledging this very special chapter of our lives.
There was something very right, and also very moving, when Jeremy and Arlene revealed the painting that was being given to us that morning. Rather than a print of Edmonton, Arlene was giving us a new and original painting she had done. It was a view of downtown St. Albert.
So as it all came to a head on that Sunday Morning, Tim Beadle looked me in the eyes and asked me a serious question:
I am about to ask you, Matt to affirm your pastoral vows before this congregation. Matt, believing with all your heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and accepting the Holy Scriptures as inspired of God through the Holy Spirit, is it your sincere desire to devote yourself to the ministry of the Word – to correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction? Will you live as to give credit and not dishonor the Gospel, which you preach and teach? Will you also love your people, enduring hardship and challenges for the welfare of the church? Will you pattern your life after the chief shepherd, keeping watch over the flock that He has given you?
After I replied “with God’s help I will,” I was invited to make an official “pastoral declaration” . This is what I read:
As I am strengthened by the Holy Spirit and directed by Jesus Christ, the Head of his church, I pledge to give careful attention to my own hidden life with God; to be a man of increasing integrity, with no gulf between my public and private life, to maintain moral, doctrinal and sexual purity; to assist in leading this church in an attitude of dependence upon God and his Word, trusting him to empower, fill and protect me; to lead with the towel, not the scepter, serving the spiritual needs of this congregation and the greater community as best I can.
As I stood on the podium, grasping Leeanne’s hand and surrounded by elders and friends, I looked out at the congregation of faces whom I have come to know and who have entered my heart in an unexpected way, and found that ordination, while indeed symbolic, truly does matter, at least to me.
If you are interested, you can listen to part of the service here: http://staalliance.org/resources/teaching/the-church-of-the-kingdom/