Twenty-some years ago, I went thru the "process" to become ordained in the UMC. I have since served as a supervising elder (which later was renamed "clergy mentor") for those who were exploring candidates for ministry, those who were certified candidates, those ordained deacons and then on probation (but now we don't ordain folks deacons before becoming elders, and they aren't on probation anymore, they are considered "provisional"). Folks who wanted to be ordained were at first ordained deacons 1/2 way thru seminary, then could be ordained and elder after two years of completing seminary, then it was three years, but now you aren't ordained a deacon (unless you want to be a Permanent Deacon), and then it became two years, and now it can be two or three years depending on your annual conference. In the past few years, I've been on the district and conference board of ministry, and just last week got "re-certified" as a clergy mentor. We have ANOTHER new book. And new procedures and policies. The wheel has been re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-reinvented. And it still looks square.
In the UMC, only the ordained can preside over Word and Sacrament. Unless you are a local pastor. Or a provisional pastor. But then your authority to baptize or preside at Eucharist is limited to the parish that you are appointed to. And if you've been a local pastor in the past but aren't currently serving a church, then you are just a lay person. So when your visiting Baptist or Catholic friend asks you, "I heard your pastor wasn't ordained. How does s/he do their job, then?" you can say, "Well, they are appointed, just not ordained." And then you'll get a blank look.
The mess isn't confined to local pastors. The Book of Discipline covers extensively the rules and regulations of ordained ministry, and you find very quickly that the UMC covers the authority of ordained ministry very well. But there is one thing that is greatly lacking: theology. We have no theology of ordination. None. Nada. Zippo. It goes against the basic understanding of ministry and discipleship in general: we have to know WHY we do what we do. It seems like when it comes to the ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, we will try and do just about anything.
The problem is, when we ordain someone, we have no idea what we're doing.
During the recent ice storm, i had some time in the evenings to catch up on "light" reading. One treasure of a book was a book by Tom & Ray Magliozzi (yes, Click and Clack of NPR's "Car Talk"), entitled In Our Humble Opinion. Being a shade-tree mechanic, I loved reading it. But these guys aren't just car greasers - they are geniuses about life.
One chapter was entitled, "Blatant Ergonomic Blunders." They talked about how cars have gone from being simple and functional to being so technologically advanced as to be useless. Tom noted that his 1963 Dodge Dart took three knobs to work and adjust the heater control; since one is driving a car, one doesn't need to be taking their eyes off the road to adjust such things as heat and air. He recently drove a car that had 14 buttons to adjust the car's heat and air - with all of the buttons the same in size and shape, indistinguishable by touch, which meant you had to squint and read the miniature icons on each button to determine its function.
It led Tom to believe that as "advanced" as we have gotten, we are making more blunders than we are advances. After driving 100's of cars, he categorized all of these blunders into these seven (7) categories:
1. Use a technology not because it's appropriate, but because it's there.After reading those, I thought: MAN. THESE GUYS HAVE THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH PEGGED. Not just where ordained ministry is concerned, but in general!
2. Be different at any cost.
3. Reinvent everything.
4. Copy nothing; not even great ideas. It's embarrassing to admit that you didn't think of it yourself.
5. Just plain stupidity (noting that baseball great Ted Williams once told a teammate, "If you don't think too good, try not to think too much.")
6. Too many cooks.
7. Oops! Where the hell are we gonna put this?
More thoughts coming...