Friday, March 23, 2012

Manifold Ministries, Ordained and Otherwise

This picture of my shelf at work, featuring the trolley from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, is one of my favorites, and I've used it both here on the blog and on my Twitter site for some time now. Over the years, I've devoted entries to a couple of the other items visible in this picture: the Transformers M&M's dispenser and the black-and-white Mickey Mouse Transformer. The other item in the picture that's of particular importance to me is the little piece of paper just to the right of the trolley. You can't really tell from the picture (even if you click on it to get a larger version), but that's a quote from The World According to Mister Rogers that I've always felt could have been written especially for me.

I've known for many years now that Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers' real name—was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (now the PC(USA), but Rogers was ordained before the denomination had that form). I even gave an oral report during my senior year in high school highlighting that fact as I described him as a twentieth-century hero. I've also been fairly open about my own attempts to become an ordained minister, culminating in my finally withdrawing from the process less than a year ago. Long before I had made that decision—years, in fact—I came upon this quote.

As the quote appears in The World According to Mister Rogers on page 188, Mister Rogers is talking about his own ordination: "When I was ordained, it was for a special ministry, that of serving children and families through television. I consider that what I do through Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is my ministry." The version of the quote I have on my shelf comes from the calendar associated with the book, and picks up from there:
A ministry doesn't have to be only through a church, or even through an ordination. And I think we all can minister to others in this world by being compassionate and caring. I hope you will feel good enough about yourselves that you will want to minister to others, and that you will find your own unique ways to do that.
I've tried to keep that attitude in the various jobs I've held throughout the years. At one point, I was ministering to students by helping them learn how to read better. At other times, I've ministered to parents trying to survive the Christmas shopping season. And, yes, at other times, I've ministered through various jobs in the Church. These days, I minister to students and teachers involved in the process of learning or teaching (respectively, yes, but not exclusively distinct in those categories) at Fuller Theological Seminary. For the past nearly 12 years, this has been my ministry (not necessarily my only ministry, but certainly the one that pays the bills).

Here at Fuller, we like to talk about training men and women "for the manifold ministries of Christ and his Church" (as it says in Fuller's mission statement). This includes not only "ordained ministries," but many other kinds. In fact, I often find myself surprised at the sheer number of people seeking a ministry that is specifically not one that requires ordination. They have a clear call from God to do a specific kind of ministry, and come to Fuller for tools to help them do it better, but they don't need for the church to specifically call it a ministry to know that it is one.

As I have heard the stories from my friends who are seeking ordination, I have often wondered if Fred Rogers would have been granted ordination by the Presbyterian Church of today. I'm honestly not sure. "Specialized ministries" (as non-church-job ordinations are sometimes called) do indeed happen from time to time, but ordaining people to such ministries seems not to be the preference of many in the denomination. Somehow, I'm not sure that it would have made a bit of difference for Mister Rogers. I think that, even if he wasn't ultimately ordained, he still would have done his television show, and he still would have used the teachings he learned by going to seminary (done while he was working in public television!) to do that job even better. Mister Rogers knew what his calling was, and with or without the imprimatur of "ordination," he pursued that calling.

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