It was a great joy to participate in the ordination of Bill Rogers in our church last week. So many of Bill’s friends and colleagues were gathered in our sanctuary to witness and affirm God’s call on his life.
It caused me to look back and remember the day of my own ordination, a steamy June day in the sanctuary of the Noroton Presbyterian Church of Darien, Connecticut. The people of that church had nurtured my faith and encouraged my call to ministry. They had loved and supported me through seminary and in the end had called me to be their associate pastor.
One of the most moving aspects of any ordination service is the Laying on of Hands. This is an ancient rite, going all the way back to the earliest disciples. In the Book of Acts Chapter 6 is the account of the first ordination service. In the time after the resurrection of Jesus, as the church grew in numbers, more workers were needed to do the ministry. So the disciples chose seven followers who were known to be wise and led by the Holy Spirit. The seven, whose names are right there in the Book of Acts, knelt before the disciples who “prayed and laid their hands upon them.” [Acts 6.6]
This rite has become the way in which one generation of believers empowers the next generation. Those who were ordained by the first disciples would, in time, place their hands upon another generation of disciples. That pattern would continue through the centuries as the church grew and spread throughout the Middle East and to Asia and Europe and ultimately, over many centuries, to all the world.
The spread of the church has always brought conflict as the followers of Christ challenge the culture and the powers that oppose Christ’s message of love and peace. But the call on the life of the Christian always comes with the promise of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to empower Christ’s servants -- a power that is embodied in this simple sacramental act. I like to believe that this rite has formed an unbroken line passing through each generation, binding us to the early church, even in spite of all the many trials and detours that the Christian church has experienced throughout the ages; and it binds us also to the promise of the future church.
On that long ago June day in Connecticut at my own ordination, a group of ordained ministers, elders and deacons -- most of whom had been a part of my call and my preparation -- placed their hands on my shoulders to symbolically, ceremonially pass the power of the Holy Spirit in order that Christ’s ministry might be continued. It was an empowering moment. I expect that it was the same for our brother Bill Rogers. I know we all wish him joy in his ministry.