Ordinarily, my blogs take me a couple of days to put together before they see the light of cyberspace. This one, however, I‘ve been working on for 30 years!
30 years ago this week, I was ordained in the NY Annual Conference. Like it was yesterday, I recall how beautiful the worship service was, and how ridiculous Wesley’s Historic Questions were.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the ordination process, it’s a long and arduous journey that includes a Master’s Degree, an extensive background check, a thorough psychological exam, a presentation of a theological position paper accompanied by a spirited defense thereof, an awesome sermon, and a series of rigorous interviews with Boards and Committees comprised largely of folks who know everything.
If, by some modern Methodist miracle, a candidate successfully navigates past each of those icebergs, they are then paraded in front of their future clergy colleagues so that the Bishop can ask them Wesley’s Historical Questions.
For 29 years in a row, I’ve heard the assembled body laugh (or at least titter) at a couple of Wesley’s more “historic” queries:
Will you visit from house to house?
(I bet Adam Hamilton hasn’t kept this one!)
Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
(Been to seminary lately, Mr. Wesley?)
Will you never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary?
(in other words, do not drive on I-95 or the LIE!)
If someone will second my motion, I’d like to move that we update some of Wesley’s Historical Questions to better reflect the reality of ministry in this millennium. Here are some suggestions, all of which are based on things I’ve unfortunately experienced over the last 30 years:
Would you baptize a child who is scheduled to be removed from life-support in the morning in a Children’s Hospital 200 miles away? BTW, the father isn’t Christian and the mother doesn’t speak English.
Would you serve communion to a bully who is beating his wife? Before you answer, you should know that she is kneeling right next to him, with a purple bruise surrounding her left eye.
What would you do if you were the newly appointed pastor to a church where a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting was taking place every Wednesday afternoon in a room next to your church’s pre-school?
What would you do if the choir at your church sounded absolutely awful?
What would you do if the bride at an outdoor wedding insisted on having her male dog walk her down the aisle, only to have him stop and spray every single chair within “spitting” distance?
What would you do if you caught the teenager of an SPRC member cheating on his/her Confirmation Class final exam?
What would you do if you saw one of your Trustees going through the garbage can outside your parsonage?
What would you do if you opened a letter addressed to you at the church, asking in letters cut out from a bunch of different magazines so as to be untraceable, “Do you know where your children are? ALL of them?”? Included in the letter was the missing picture of your entire Sunday School that used to be pinned to the bulletin board in the Education Building.
What would you do if your much-beloved predecessor left the parsonage uninhabitable?
Tough questions all.
Nonetheless, if the Bishop asked me at tomorrow’s clergy session, “Ken, knowing now what you didn’t know then about ministry, would you still assent to being ordained?”, I would answer thusly:
“There’s no question about it!”