In Baptist life, the practice of ordination is both essential and somewhat confusing. An ordination flow chart would, at the very least, include these elements: The call to ministry comes from God. The call is received by the individual. The individual is trained by a reputable body (such as a seminary) in conjunction with the local church. The call is validated by the local church. The sense of the local church is validated by a network of churches of which the local church is a part. Having received the validation of the network (association), the local church ordains the individual. Did I leave something out?
In 1994, a group of American Baptist leaders put together a document titled Recommended Procedures or Ordination, Commissioning and Recognition for the Christian Ministry in the American Baptist Churches. The sheer length of the title should alert us to the complexity of the subject. The Introduction to the forty page document notes:
- It is the right and responsibility of the local church to ordain those whom it recognizes as being called of God. That ordination may be particular for the local church or it may be general on behalf of all churches of like faith and order. It is done in consultation with associated churches.
- Because of the mobility and itinerancy of the ordained clergy, it is physically impossible for the local ordaining church to be responsible for the faithful service of the ordained for the many years of an individual’s ministry. While most regions offer counseling, consulting, continuing education, and continuing recognition of ordination, the individual clergyperson is also charged with the responsibility to engage in appropriated preparation for the ministry, to seek out adequate support while in the ministry, and to maintain a commitment to his ethical standards throughout their career.
- Because God calls people into ministry of varying age and background, there are various practices in the American Baptist Churches regarding the timing and form of ordination.
- Even though diversity and variability characterized our life together as American Baptists, ABC congregations desire certain core elements among their clergy including a clear call to ministry, skills conducive to performing that ministry, emotional maturity, embracement of the ABC Ministerial code of ethics, willingness to be a part of associational life, understanding of American Baptist polity, and a commitment to life-long learning and development as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you have read to this point, you are likely wondering to yourself, “And why exactly are you telling us this, Jim? Do you think we woke up in the middle of night last night wondering about ordination procedures in the American Baptist tradition?” I am sharing this with you because one of our own, Minister In Residence Sydney Webster, is nearing completion of the Lakeshore and Pacific Coast Baptist Association (The body that manages ordination requests for the Evergreen Region in California) ordination procedures. She has heard the call. She has received training. She has written an ordination paper. An Ordination Committee made up of LABC members has approved her request for ordination as has the Ministerial Standards Committee of the Pacific Coast Baptist Association.
The final step before an ordination service is an Association-wide Ordination Council. Recently, PCBA President Alice Edmonson called such a council with this letter to the pastors and moderators of PCBA churches.
As president of the Pacific Coast Baptist Association, I am calling for an Ordination Council for Sydney Webster to be held at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church on October 10, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. Membership of the Council is to include one member of the clergy and one lay person from each of the association churches. I encourage as many churches as possible to attend as a quorum requires attendance by at least one-third of the member churches. Others may attend as observers and to offer encouragement to the candidate.
In short, Sydney is moving through the ordination process and is deserving of our support as the process reaches its conclusion. You can show your support by attending the PCBA Ordination Council on the evening of October 10th. If you would like a copy of her paper, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email it to you.