“What IS an ordination and why is it important?”
What is an ordination? Someone asked me that a few weeks ago as Westside prepares for the ordination of Crystal Zerfoss at 2:00 pm on Saturday, March 16th at the church. That person recalled the ordination of Westside’s DRE Rev. Cynthia Westby some months ago in Berkeley as an interfaith chaplain.
I had to think about it for a moment when the person asked me. My response was that it’s like a wedding. It’s the moment a vocation (as opposed to a career) is ritualized into a formal relationship meant to last a lifetime. It’s more than a simple celebration of a new minister becoming official. It reaches deep into the history of religions including Unitarianism and Universalism.
The late Rev. Dr. Peter Raible wrote a seminal booklet many years ago about ordination in the UU tradition. He wrote that ordination by a congregation has been a powerful part of congregational polity in Unitarian congregations for over 350 years in America. That polity (organized around the right of a congregation to manage its own governance and ministry decisions) meant that ordination was the right and role of a congregation. Universalist ordinations were a bit more complicated but were still often at the congregational level.
So, imagine an ordination as a wedding. There’s a huge amount of work in advance. Crystal had to complete many required steps to be admitted into Fellowship by the UUA: Seminary, CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), internship (here at Westside working with Jade Lowry and the RE program in particular), many, many books, etc. Crystal then had to meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to ascertain her preparation for ministry. She passed the test and now was ready to be ordained as a minister. A congregation is especially honored to be asked to be an ordaining body. A Unitarian Universalist minister must be ordained by a congregation, church, or fellowship as a blessing and affirmation of their future ministry.
An ordination is a sacred ritual going back millennia. I hope you can attend this event because you’ll see and hear very special rituals that may seem archaic. What is a “laying on of hands”? What does it mean when a speaker talks about a charge to the minister? These and other rituals will remind the new Reverend that she/he/they have sacred presence and duties as a minister.
I don’t want to share too many details of the many wonderful parts of this ordination-as-wedding but I bet it will be beautiful, moving, and bring some tears of joy to peoples’ eyes. It’s a once in a lifetime event. You’ll experience and take part in a communal blessing of Crystal’s ministry. I think one of the reasons a congregation exists is to lift up and bless a new ministry. This is one such occasion. A special thanks to Jade Lowry, the board, and many others who have helped plan this special occasion. Jade and Crystal have written up some comments to go into the Westside Week and I include the last paragraph of their words here:
“We love our Crystal, and we are so excited for her to bring her gifts to the work of our faith! And to the world, in her powerful role as minister. Westside offered Crystal a deep dive into Unitarian Universalist religious education, giving her a full and well-rounded lens for shaping her leadership to help grow our next generation of UUs. It’s thrilling to think about how Crystal’s appreciation for religious education will influence her ministry, and her voice locally and nationally!”
I hope you’ll be able to attend this very special event. Your presence will make it even more meaningful not only for Crystal but for her family and her current congregation in Tri-Cities. It will be her first step into what has been called “that strange and wondrous vocation” called ministry.