By Leigh Ann Shaw
It is 17 years since my first interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry for probationary membership in the Order of Elder. Today I have to use a calculator and my resume to remember the chronology of events. Despite forgetting the timeline of my ordination journey, my memory of the faces around each interview circle is always present in my ministry memory. It was the best of times and the worst of times as I followed God’s promptings in my life.
If I could speak to myself and offer wisdom to the me that existed 17 years ago, I would offer the words of Psalm 51:10-12. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willingspirit.” I do not imagine these words would have taken away the emotional undertow of the process, but they may have hastened my understanding of God’s capacity for restoration. God re-creates the human heart in time. God re-creates the human heart within the beloved community, which is the Kingdom of God.
It was and is clear to me that the process toward ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church is flawed for all people, no matter gender, experience or ideology. Despite the injustice and flaws of our process, I continue to be blessed by the faces and lives of people around the circle. The hearts of the called continue to lean in toward perfection. God continues to set us back on a path toward salvation. And when we screw up, God welcomes us once more to the journey of holiness. I’ve come to believe the process of ordination isn’t grace, and often doesn’t seem like it could find grace with a team of lightsaber-wielding Yoda-like Super-Bishops. Grace will never be a process or system, but grace is a people whose hearts seek God and who are willing to be entwined for a mutual journey with one another.
Today I am a member of the district committee for ordained ministry and I evaluate candidates for ministry. I am honored to work alongside one of the people who interviewed me at my first Board of Ordained Ministry interview. Every time I see his face, I remember the path which God set us upon many years ago. I am mindful of the ways our paths have overlapped and been transformed. I’m mindful of the way God challenges, breaks down and restores each one of us over a lifetime.
The work of ministry and the journey of ordination cannot become myopic. We cannot give in to Methodist ways that are defined by rule mongering, and lose Methodism that loves spiritual disciplines which lead to justice and holiness! As an individual or a church, when we focus on and exclude one gender, race, sexual orientation or generation, we lose the voice of a child of God. God does not exclude anyone, but includes everyone in the narrative of salvation, and so it should be in our church. God’s story of salvation is happening now and forever, through me and you and us!
God is creating in us a clean heart! God is drawing us close, entwining us together and restoring us to joy! God is sustaining us for the journey we are on together. Let us be people who challenge one another to greater acts of faithfulness, and never give up on how God is at work within the Body of the people of the United Methodist Church. Despite the challenge of the times, God is here and we are being re-created and restored for God’s holy purpose! Amen.
Rev. Dr. Leigh Ann Shaw received her call to ministry as a teenager and was encouraged and prayerfully supported by her ministers throughout her teenage years. After earning a Master of Divinity degree at the Claremont School of Theology, she was appointed as a licensed local pastor at a church in California and discovered her deep love for hospitality chaplaincy. She was ordinained as an Elder in 2002 and earned a doctorate in ministry in 2010. Along the way, she has served as a hospital chaplain and pastor, and now she is senior pastor at La Mesa First United Methodist Church.