I write this partly as a reflection on ordination, but also as an open letter to my older brother who was recently ordained.
I hit the road Friday afternoon to meet my family at Colin’s house in Cary to celebrate his ordination on Saturday. Halfway through the trip I received a call from my mom—my grandmother had fallen at Colin’s house. She didn’t tell me much except, “grandma fell and dad is worried.” I overanalyze everything and so I rushed to the hospital as quickly as I could. My brother had already arrived and was keeping my grandmother company with my dad. She is ok, but had to spend the night in the hospital.
Grandma was a little embarrassed but she was mostly, and unnecessarily, apologetic. She knew that our plans had been thwarted. She apologized that we were not able to eat a family dinner. Colin was not able to rest like we had planned, but he was going to have to return home exhausted. The service on Saturday was going to be ruined. The list goes on. Of course, none of us regret being with grandma that night, but we also knew that she was partly right. Our plans did change, even though we were glad to be at her side. The relaxing weekend received unforeseen excitement—the kind of excitement you don’t receive warmly. Later on, I came to find out that there had been an even bigger misfortune earlier in the day—a tragic death in Colin’s congregation. Like I said, so much for relaxation.
I tell this story only because the events of that day gave me space to reflect on what it means to be ordained. I offer two reflections—one that is more superficial in nature and one that is more personal.
On a superficial level, my brother’s chaotic day exemplified the commitment he was making for the rest of his life. We planned to party on Friday night, but my brother spent the eve of his ordination in the hospital. He didn’t celebrate like he planned, but he served. Ordained ministry is countercultural because your life is no longer your own. “Ordained ministry, especially ‘sent’ ministry, is unpredictable, demanding, and uncontrollable—it must also be self-less for these reasons. It was ironically fitting that Colin was in a hospital most of the day. I do not think he cared, though. Ordained pastors don’t feel a deep need to celebrate their own accomplishments as much as they feel called to serve God’s world. If you are egocentric, then it’s hard to be a pastor.
I lament the two tragedies that took place on that day. Oddly enough, though, the best celebration Colin could receive was the calling and privilege to serve those whom he loves (even on his ordination weekend).
Yet, I also noticed something on a deeper level, something that was more profound. I realized that my brother had already received another identity gradually, somewhere along the road. For when I walked into my grandmother’s hospital room I didn’t just meet a brother, but I met a soon-to-be ordained pastor. And his presence in the hospital room had to be that of a pastor, not of a grandson. His role was to sanctify the space with his presence, speech, and touch. This was striking—Colin was no longer primarily a son, or a grandson, or even a brother—he was, first and foremost, a pastor and a representative of God. In the service, Bishop Leeland said, “We no longer live in the world, trying to serve God, so much as we live in God, seeking to serve the world." This was made incarnate in the hospital.
Colin’s ordination weekend showed me that my brother has become a pastor. Saturday was a special event for my family and me because it was the culmination of many experiences—the times Colin has led us in mealtime prayers, dragged my sister and me to youth group, and the way he has implicitly led me and paved the way for me to acknowledge my own calling and gifts. Colin, you have often been a representative of God to us, but now you will be one wherever you go.
This is a vocation that is going to be unpredictable, challenging, but also adventurous. And there is nothing more important than being Christ’s representative.