The writings of Rev. Howard Moody

Charge to the Ordinand

The Ordination of Michael Ellick

October 12, 2008

Michael, in this age where clergy authority and power is so greatly diminished, I don’t know whether this charge should come with condolences or congratulations—although, what I want to say to you will be more like a challenge than a charge, more like a wish than a command. I would remind you that this community of faith which is ordaining and calling you gives no special authority or spiritual status, no official charisma. This act of ordination may not be seen as a “deification of vocation.” You are called as a “lead minister” among many ministers. In that regard I would remind you that this church, which is ordaining and calling you to ministry, is one whose fundamental symbol is not a Pulpit where holy truth is expounded, but a Table where the bread of life is broken and we search for truth together.

In your ministry, there are several wishes or hopes I have for you. I will only identify them briefly. I will leave it to you to exegete them and make them real in a lifetime of ministry.

I hope you will continue to discover the nature of this community which has called you, and don’t think for a moment that you really know. I’ve been around here for 50 years and I’m not sure I know. That is because I believe in evolution—of humans and institutions—but I can give you a hint of a few things that haven’t changed. This community of faith is a place—this old building is hallowed by so many, many memories of crises, of moments of celebration and desperation that grabbed us, revived our spirits, or hurt us, that the building itself provided a base in which to meet and move on. And it is a people, a polyglot of humanity who live in afaith/doubt tension sustained by grace (that unmerited blessing by which our sometimes bumbling attempts to change our lives and the world are turned into holy meanings when we see some evidence of change in both); and we are a people of hope, refusing, except on occasions, to drown in despair, in all our attempts to change ourselves or the world. That hope is the wellspring that enables us to celebrate even in the worst of times. Michael, I urge you to help us keep that tension and hope alive. Then, I want to remind you that changing the order of things, bringing in the Kingdom, moving this old world closer to the heart of God, whatever you call it, is never a mass movement. History redounds with revolutions and reformations that were the work of a small remnant. Don’t wait around for the marching bands and waving banners and the masses of good people demonstrating.

I hope you will use your gift of discernment so that as you watch the world turning and facing unbelievable crises, you will remember that most of Jesus’ life and ministry was spent “outside the camp,” not with people in synagogues or Temple, but on the road, down by the river, places where people were hurting and suffering. The church’s mission is out there in the precincts of the underdog, where hurt and humiliation are a way of life, where people are starving for justice and equality and some ray of hope that there are people who care about them.

Finally, Michael, I trust you to remember in all your preaching and teaching to be aware that it is not in the words people hear so much as in what people see in the life you live in honesty and humility that will enable you to speak boldly and plainly out of the depth of your experience. I hope you resist speaking in an authoritarian manner or with spiritual pretension about anything that you have only read, studied, or heard, but speak strongly with a doubtful certainty only what you have experienced in the guts of your existence. Never let metaphysical rhetoric or theological recitation cover the reality of your unbelief. People will forgive the minister many things, but not “bad faith.”

Michael, let the mantle of this act of ordination hang loosely on your shoulders but embrace your calling with all your mind, heart, and soul.