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  • Writer's pictureTouchstone Journal

Jane Johnson: Reflections on One Order of Ministry

I had no idea my colleagues’ pain ran so deep.  I had little idea that I was exacerbating it, just by working under the privilege of being ordained.

            During a break in the debate over the proposal for One Order of Ministry, on the floor of General Council meetings in Corner Brook in August 2015, a close friend became angry at me when I tried to make some conciliatory gesture.  Another argued that pastoral charges under their care were thriving, while neighbouring charges with ordained ministers struggled.  I found myself on the defensive, without any safe ground from which to voice my position without offending.

            Since then, I have asked other ministry colleagues their take on the relationship between Ordained, Diaconal and Designated Lay Ministry. Their answers uncovered for me a full range of experiences and perceptions: from presbytery Pastoral Relations Committees discouraging JNAC’s from including DLM and Diaconal as possibilities to fill their vacancies, to inequalities felt on all sides about the ordination process, to stoles and collars and titles and pay scales.

            I have read a wide breadth of online responses to the proposal for One Order of Ministry, and the more I read, the more respect I have for those who have struggled diligently and persistently with these issues.

What attracted me to The United Church of Canada was its deep thinking, its principled integrity, and its messy wide umbrella.  And I see all of those being applied to our conversation about streams of ministry.

            I know my default position on most issues is naiveté, but I must say that on these issues I am at a loss as to how making all paid-accountable ministry one stream is the best way forward.

            I have erased many paragraphs in this submission, sentences that start well, but head in a direction that I find offensive and derogatory, to someone. When I type, “equal pay for equal work,” the parable of the workers in Matthew 20 pops into my head.  Why does jealousy raise its ugly head in the middle of this conversation?

When I hear people grumbling about what different ministers wear, I wonder, are my collar, and gown, and stoles, just work clothes, the work of creating a space for folks to connect with God?  Or do I need a child to break through the procession, calling out, “the emperor has no clothes!”?  Or maybe I just need my good old Presbyterian dad to come back and remind me that “pride goeth before a fall”.

No wonder when I tried to argue to a colleague,  “Aren’t we all called to be servants?”, they responded, “But some are more servant than others.”

An M.Div. from Knox College from 1981 is as different from a 2008 M.Div. from AST, as is a Diploma from the Centre for Christian Studies, from a DLM Diploma from St. Andrew’s College.  There is a richness to that that I would hate the church to lose.

            I am beginning to believe that the solution lies not so much in unifying the structures, or the institutions, as it does in respecting and supporting each other’s paths.

Every day’s news cycle reveals some fallout from discrimination and oppression.  And the people closest to ‘ground zero’ keep telling us to quit trying to advise them, to ‘fix them’ from afar.  “Listen to us.”

            And I am finding this to be the greatest value I am receiving from this process. Perhaps of far more value than the outcome, whichever way we decide to ‘order’ our ministry. Maybe now I am listening…

Jane Johnson is the minister in the United Churches in Minto, Youngs Cove, Cambridge-Narrows, and Gagetown, NB.

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