This Sunday in worship, we the congregation will ordain and install Ruling Elders and Deacons in the class of 2019, two days after we the people inaugurate the 45th president of the United States of America.
So that’s gotten me to thinking about these two rites, in a time when we don’t have many public rites or rituals. In both ordination and inauguration, someone has been chosen to serve in a particular office. In both someone makes vows or takes an oath. In both, scripture is present, either in the vow to accept the witness of scripture or to pledge one’s integrity about the oath by placing the hand on the Bible.
In our Presbyterian system, once an elder or deacon, always an elder or deacon; one is either actively serving in that office or not. A president is president for four or eight years (usually) but is called by the title “president” for the rest of his (someday or her) life.
To be honest, I am much more excited about Sunday’s ordinations than I am about Friday’s inauguration. I hold a greater sense of community with this congregation than I do with our nation. I know these people; I know about their lives and their joys and griefs. I have been called to serve them and to serve alongside them. We are on a mission, and in fulfilling that we spend time together, studying, praying, laughing, challenging, eating, singing, listening, working. Good stuff.
A president is elected by the people, in a roundabout way. An elder or deacon is called by God through the voice of the congregation. That seems to be a significant difference. Elders and deacons make vows; presidents take oaths. Merriam-Webster says this about the two: “Oath: (1) a formal and serious promise to tell the truth or to do something (2) an offensive or rude word that is used to express anger, frustration, surprise, etc.
Vow: (1) a serious promise to do something or to behave in a certain way.” (Perhaps in making vows we promise not to say oaths.)
When we who are church officers take ordination vows, we are promising to behave in a certain way: to be obedient to Jesus, to be a friend among colleagues in ministry, to love neighbor and work for the reconciliation of the world. (That’s not all but those may be my favorite.)
The president swears the oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and…to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun as the ordination vows’ work.
I know the Bible better than I know the Constitution although I recognize the importance of both. I am rooted in the places of scripture more than I am rooted in the ideals of the Constitution. These days I am finding it harder to be patriotic than to be faithful.
So maybe this is all an unnecessary comparison of the two. I just have this sense that in the long run – and I’m talking eschatalogical long run – what we do on Sunday will have more impact than what happens on Friday. What we do on Sunday is holy. Going to committee meetings and serving cookies at a memorial service might not seem like much, but in that way that small things are really huge, it is the work of heaven.
In the end, let’s just say I have a lot of confidence in what our elders and deacons will do – and who they will be as they live out their vows – in the coming years.
You can infer the rest.