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Catherine MacDonald: Reflections on One Order of Ministry

            I write this both from the perspective of someone who spent many years denying a call to ordained ministry, one who sat in the pews for a number of years, and one who ultimately followed God’s call to ordination. I write it as I prepare for Pentecost and the words in Acts 2 are ringing in my ears.

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my

Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream

dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days

I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’ (Acts 2: 17& 18 NRSV)

            I believe that that the separate streams of Diaconal and Ordained Ministry had their place and role at one time, but I think that time has come to an end. Most diaconal ministers are serving in solo ministry, in places where the community has expressed their desire for the ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral care. The separate streams of ordered ministry, while they were deemed to be equal, in lived experience, the necessity of a commissioned minister needing to get permission for the sacraments set up a hierarchy and preference from congregations of ordained over diaconal.

            Our ministries and communities need very different things depending on their contexts: some need the skills that have been traditionally thought of as belonging to clergy—Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care. Some need the skills of a diaconal minister—Education, Justice and Service. Most need some combination of both and I support ordaining people to ministry. Period. Full stop. No defining what that ministry will be at the moment of ordination, simply ordaining those who have discerned and the wider church supports their vocation and have completed educational requirements that somehow combine the best of the ordained and diaconal streams.

            The United Church has always supported an educated clergy, and, even as I believe strongly in the ministry all people and support those who through call or circumstance become Designated Lay Ministers, I feel reluctant to include people who have not completed equivalent educational requirements in the same category as those who have undertaken, often at great personal and financial cost to themselves, graduate level education. Our ecumenical partners, and in particular our recently signed mutual recognition of ministry partners, the United Church of Christ, expect our ordained ministers to have education and training at the graduate school level.

            I am not convinced that the education that DLMs receive can ever be equivalent to an MDiv; the requirements would have to be vastly different from what they are now. With most DLMs serving isolated or rural postings, the logistics of them getting equivalent training could well be out of reach for most. Perhaps the idea of local ordination, to a particular ministry site, is suitable for those who cannot through circumstance undertake advanced education.

            And yet, does this matter at all to the average person in the pew? Or in the community ministry setting? Somehow I don’t think so. Somehow I think the average person in the ministry site wants someone competent in the areas of ministry in which they are located. I believe that to that average person, their leader’s training and designation mean little as long as they are competent.

            The Spirit of Pentecost that hovered over and empowered a band of fearful Jesus followers can surely do the same for us 2000 years later in The United Church of Canada.

            We are not alone.

Catherine MacDonald was ordained in 2004 and is loving Interim Ministry with the Elmsdale Pastoral Charge in Nova Scotia. 

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