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I was recently talking with a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) director about the training of chaplains for work in hospitals and other institutions. He commented that to enter the CPE program, you need to have denominational authorization and be ordained, if the denomination offers ordination. The field is highly competitive. There are 10 or so applicants for every job available. It made me reflect on the whole issue of ordination, and it's connection to the established churches. It also made me think of all the people who would like to do some form of chaplaincy-type work caring for others, but who do not fit well in the established denominations.


Yesterday a library book arrived for me, written by Frank Viola and George Barna (Pagan Christianity). The authors severely question the whole idea of ordination. I assume that most of you have read the book, or are at least familiar with the discussion points. Basically, the whole clergy/ordination thing is not only foreign to the early church, it is directly harmful (according to the authors) - "damaging" - to the people in today's congregations. All Christians are called to ministry, not just the clergy. "The clergy/laity dichotomy perpetuates an awful falsehood - namely, that some Christians are more privileged than others to serve the Lord."


Somewhere along the line I heard that there is a church in London that solves the ordination problem by ordaining everyone. You want to work with the homeless, fine, we'll ordain you for that. Be here on Sunday for your ordination!


Perhaps the whole ordination thing is somehow linked to the external Saviour God of the creeds. The priestly intervention idea, with the sacrifice at the altar "on our behalf and for our salvation". But if this is the case, it seems a stretch to require ordination for people who want to work as chaplains.


Dunno. Just thinking this subject through, having been to seminary myself.....

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I'm not familiar with the book mentioned, but do have several comments from personal observations.


Ordination from an established denominational organization is not required for all chaplaincy authorizations. Three cases I am personally aware of:


A man working many years as a chaplain with the Harris County (Texas) jail...he had been nearing the end of his seminary education and ordination process under the auspices of a major denominational organization, when his wife divorced him. Since under that denomination's ordination polcies, a divorced person cannot be ordained, and anyone already ordained that becomes divorced has his/her ordination revoked, this man was unable to complete his ordination process. He then took the chaplaincy position with HCj as one of the few options available to him to use his education annd skills. After some years, he had decided it was for the best, he felt very fullfilled working with jail inmate populationn.


A woman who practiced Wicca, upon her son's conviction and incarceration in a Texas state prison discovered there were no Wiccan chaplains available for inmates there, aquired a Wiccan ordination, which is a very easy process that does not require any formal training, and there is no single official overseeing organization to do the ordination. Basically ordination is done coven by coven. On the basis of that ordination, however, she was allowed to function as a volunteer (unpaid) chaplain to her own son and other inmates that declared themselves of Wiccan religion. She continued to provide that "service", which enabled her to have much more contact with her son than just visiting priveledges allowed, for the 4 yrs her son was incarterated there. She resigned the position when he was released on parole.


A man I knew to be a very 'sleazy' person, never regularly employed in any kind of work, and con man and a malingerer, and with a history of child sex abuse charges, none having resulted in convictions due to lack of sufficient evidence, was able to get an "ordination" through an online "ordination mill", the religious equivalent of education "diploma mills", that basically consisted of nothing more than paying a small "fee", was actually able to get hired as a part time "on-call" chaplain for a small town jail. He didn't hold the job long, not because of any questions about his supposed "ordination" or suspected sexual child abuse background, but because he repeatedly failed to show up for duty when called. Anyone that personally knew this man, including his family that had cut off all contect and communication with him years before, also were well aware this man was dishonest and untrustworthy, with either children, property or money!



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Thanks, Jenell, for your three interesting examples. A while back a friend of mine suggested that I look into the chaplaincy idea. I'm not sure it's what I want to do, but I thought I would explore the idea.


A few comments in response to your examples...


1) The CPE fellow I visited mentioned that there were sometimes openings in the prison system, and that hiring was based on friendship with the warden. Minimal pay, if any.


2) Getting into the CPE training appears to be as difficult as getting a job. Here locally, at least, the waiting list is about a year long, an M.Div degree or equivalent is required, and 1 in 3 applicants are turned down.


3) I suspect that the law of supply and demand might be at work here. The denominations are shrinking at a rapid pace, and perhaps the overflow is moving toward chaplaincy.


4) The "career track", "professional clergy" aspect feels a bit peculiar. I am reminded of all the small town Presbyterian churches that supposedly have no clergy because they can't afford the minimum salary required by the denomination.


5) There is an Interfaith school in Berkeley that offers training and will handle such things as the ordination. But of course one would have to be in Berkeley to go to the school.


These are just some random thoughts on my part. I very much appreciate your comments, as they help me process the idea....



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Robert wrote: "4) The "career track", "professional clergy" aspect feels a bit peculiar. I am reminded of all the small town Presbyterian churches that supposedly have no clergy because they can't afford the minimum salary required by the denomination."


This just doesn't seem right or fair, does it? I don't know enough about the history of the development of clergy as a "career track" to understand when, where, and how this situation came to be as it has. Churches in early and pioneer America had no such system, preachers and physicians were among the poorly paid, often accepting whatever livestock or farm produce those they served could "pay".

I can also remember from my childhood that many of the preachers in churches my parents attended had a full time paid job elsewhere in addition to pastoring the church. Since I was just a child, of course I don't know anything about the way that was worked out...most of those churches were also independent Baptist, so I guess feel under no formal denominational organization anyway. And of course, things I remember also suggest many of those preachers were not formally ordained by any denominational organization, or in many cases, had not even attended/graduated from any seminary or bible college. That stands out in my memory because I remember occasions when both those preachers and some members of those churches spoke mockingly of "them college educated preachers that think they know it all.."..in comparison to themselves, of course, as "just a simple poor country boy.." (Wow, just typing that made me wonder how those people 'bought into' those lines, lol!)


It would seem to me, given just as you say, the many churches of all kinds of denominations whose memberships have fallen too low to support a full-time salaried w/benefits pastor, there would be some meaningful way to adapt in those situations, for sake of the members of those churches. To me, an overseeing denominational organization "requiring" the amount of salary that any church must pay a pastor sounds just a bit too "corporate capitalist America"...



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Being a woman who, until recently, was a member of the Catholic church, the question of ordination has long been a subject of interest to me. :blink:


Perhaps the whole ordination thing is somehow linked to the external Saviour God of the creeds. The priestly intervention idea, with the sacrifice at the altar "on our behalf and for our salvation".


I agree that, traditionally, those who are ordained have been seen as “above” others or set apart. I think ordination should be used to indicate some level of knowledge or expertise. IMO, ordination should be like any other professional certification. Teachers, health professionals, heck, even barbers, need certification or a license. Of course, certification would need to be done by a recognized recognized religion, not by the government (not in the US anyway.)

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Guest billmc

Robert, Jenell, as I'm sure both of you know, denominational affiliation and accreditation is one of the ways that institutional Christianity maintains control in much of the world. Sadly, it is what it is and it is rather difficult to find a way to work within organizations with their backing without meeting their criteria, which is often contricting.


This is one of the reasons that I appreciate the more "grassroots" movements where people do what they do because they effectively *can* do it, rather than have ineffective "qualified" people simply filling positions. I am not at all saying that all of organized religion is like this, but I do find that the organized church has every bit of a power structure to it as secular organizations do.


On a slightly different subject, I also have mixed feelings about "paid" clergy. While I certainly don't support the notion that the church has to slavishly follow the Bible, Jesus did send out his disciples without pay (only taking food and lodging) and the apostle Paul had a job that sustained his financial needs, at least to some extent. IMO, the more institutional Christianity is tied to people's pocketbooks, the more control it is going to naturally have over people's ministries. So it seems that the pursestrings do control the ministries to a large extent.


Jesus himself seemed, at least to me, to be part of a "grassroots" reformation movement within first century Judaism. (I'm smiling as I write the following:) He charged nothing for his books, tapes, CDs, videos, and speaking engagements. For him, the gospel was free to receive...but the cost was in following it after receiving it. So I have mixed feelings about the way church structures are set up to pay people to minister and the control the evitably goes along with being on someone's payroll. To me, popular Christianity is quite comfortably in bed with runaway marketing and modern consumerism. Please don't think that I'm saying that no ministers should be paid, I just think that if you are, you are bound and often controlled by the ones paying you.


On a positive note, God and sincere, gifted people always seem to find away around these entrapments and control structures. IMO, they "follow the Spirit" and where institutional doors get closed, windows of opportunity still open. Grassroots movements often start because someone dares to step out on faith and follow the Spirit apart from the support and sanctioning of institutional religion.


Anyway, Robert, my thoughts and prayers are with you that the Spirit will guide you in wisdom in your decisions as you consider where your journey will lead you. There is an old adage that says (my paraphrase), "When we are ready, the opportunities will come." I hope and pray that God leads you in the best ones open to you.

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I was recently talking with a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) director about the training of chaplains for work in hospitals and other institutions. He commented that to enter the CPE program, you need to have denominational authorization and be ordained, if the denomination offers ordination. The field is highly competitive.


If I must think this issue through I find I don't have sure answers. Certainly ordination, experience, and education are no guarantee. As I have witnessed. House churches and working in the field don't need ordination I think. As a former Presbyterian I lean toward an educated leadership and hope their congregations who will let them share all they know about the Bible. Ordination is a odd rite of passage. For my friend who was recently ordained the order of events was:

1. graduate from seminary

2. receive a call (a job offer) which is not certain these days. He had been out of seminary for 6-12 months. But now he had been working for a couple months.

3. Write an ordination paper.

4. Meet with the committee on ordination (different names in different denominations) Answer questions about the paper and your call. He said he wouldn't be in his current position very long because it wasn't a good fit.

5. Go out of the room while the committee votes.


Now the job offer was, I am sure, conditional, but the order of events seems odd.


However, Robert, I have spent many, many, many days as a parent in a hospital. I preferred my chaplains trained. Perhaps CPE is more difficult than necessary because their are so many applicants. I did see that a group of Buddhists were receiving training to be chaplains.



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@Jenell, great that you mention the Baptists from your childhood! I too grew up in a Baptist church family. Of course, the Baptists are generally quite conservative theses days. But they do have some interesting gifts to offer. For example, their sense of community is very strong, in part because they like to hang out at church almost every day of the week, and all day on Sunday. As far as the pastor goes, there is a strong local emphasis as you note. A pastor can work for free, and support the family with a second job. But that is also the downside. When there is trouble, the pastor has little backup. One of the Baptist Pastors I knew as a child was tossed out of the church, and so he moved onto the Navajo Indian Reservation to start a new church. That is dedication!!!


@Yvonne, it is interesting that Catholics exploring CPE do not have to show ordination. There is an extreme shortage of Catholic chaplains, for obvious reasons. They don't have enough clergy for the parishes, much less for the hospitals. So any lay Catholic can apply - and there are probably jobs available.


@Bill, your story of Jesus made me think of "Open Source" software. How about "Open Source" Christianity? It seems to me that we need to support people who support the ministers (plural) of the church. But I must confess, I stumble when I hear (as I did recently) that a specific ordained minister has the power to forgive all my sins.


I guess that is where part of my "struggle" with all this is: the issue of artificial power based on religion. For the Baptists, it can be a powerful preacher who generates guilt and fear - "now is the hour" to "get saved" as Billy Graham used to say. And for the more liturgical traditions, it is the power of the clergy to forgive sins, restrict access to communion, "marry 'em and bury 'em", etc.


@Dutch, thank you for the outline of the ordination process. A week or so ago, I read of another Presbyterian ordination candidate who was having a difficult time. The problem was "double" predestination. He made it publicly known that he didn't buy it, particularly the part about God having great "pleasure" at sending the damned to hell. Needless to say, he is no longer on the ordination track.


The more I think about this issue, the more interesting it gets. Training and skills are important and necessary (I have a several degrees, so I love the educational part). But can there be a Christianity that is a "Way of Living" rather than a "ticket to heaven", where people are trained and lifted up in a way that avoids Nietzsche's "Will to Power"?

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The idea of there being some overseeing denominational organization/body involved in the process of educating, ordaining, and supervising clergy is actually more complicated than it may seem.


I mentioned the uneducated 'I'm just a poor simple country boy' kind of preachers, and certainly among Independent churches of many recognized denominations, as well as the rapidly growing popularity of non-denominational churches and ministries, avoids the kind of "contolling" forces mentioned here, but there's also another side to that "freedom" from oversight and regulation.


Some of the very worst sorts of "bad religion", "cult masters", and just plain outright fraudsters ride that freedom train all too often. Without oversight or controls, absolutely anyone can set themselves up as a preacher or minister, often running so-called "ministries" for private profit. The few more successful and flamboyant among them make it into tv and radio celebrity status, many others just use and abuse and confuse and even do harm to a lot of trusting people.


I remember some very hot arguments between my parents, over my mother's insistence that as a preacher, a man of God, that man was due more respect and trust than others, while my Dad insisted that a preacher was just a man, like any other man, and just like any other man, might be a good man or a not so good man.


I also remember a couple churches we attended where people in the congregation became disgruntled with the preacher, thought to by vote toss him out, only to find the building lease or even ownership was in the preacher's name and even the church's money legally belonged to the preacher. In one case that was particularly scandelous, it was only when the preacher's wife filed for a divorce from him that it came out she was his 4th wife! Yep, Independent Baptist church, and anybody that knows Baptist know how they feel about divorce!


Sexual scandals are hardly unusual among preachers, but withouut any oversight at all, even the most blatant sex offender can bounce from church to church, leaving a wake of damaged relationships, and wounded people, with little restraint.


Point is, it might be most wise to seek some solution that takes a middle ground, between overly controlling oversight, and none at all.



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I have read that one of the universal characteristics of religion is having religious specialists, from animist shamans to Catholic popes. And, these specialists are so recognized essentially by one of two different ways. One is through designation of a religious institution (usually by demonstrating the requisite education and character). The other is by demonstrating special spiritual gifts.


The fact that Jesus became a religious leader not through institutional approval it would likely be though demonstrating special spiritual gifts. And, given the stories from the NT about healing, it is very plausible (on secular grounds) that he developed a reputation as a faith healer.



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This is a very interesting question. There's no doubt to me that activity and participation are necessary in some level for all members of a church. On the other hand, 'ordination' may be seen as necessary in order to make sure people have the necessary qualifications to do their job. A seminary education would be a provision, so that gross errors (at least from within the perspective of the denomination in question) are kept away from the pulpit. I can understand that. Yet perhaps there is a way to do this while maintaining the equality of all the membership. Honestly I think the problem is that churches are overtly institutionalized so that they have to be run like businesses.


I like this idea of 'open source' Christianity - a living network of Christians that is less rigid in its structure. Yet 'high church' services are also meaningful. Perhaps Christian ritual and iconography need not stand opposed to this 'organic' Christianity. It would take significant re-visioning of things to make it happen, but it seems to be happening here and there.




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The issue of "High Church" really resonates with me because I have a background in art and music. I find myself hanging out at multiple churches, because I feel I have multiple needs. The cathedral with the organ, choirs and stained glass windows is wonderful, but often the setting makes it hard to be very social. When I go to a less liturgically structured church, within the first hour I have ten friends! The worship environment really effects the way people behave.


I think Mike is on the right track. Christianity has a wealth of creative, beautiful art, music, literature, and ritual. Now if we could just bridge that "heritage" with the "living network" idea....


Could it be that the ideal role of the skilled clergy would be to help people find their own "ministry" and support that ministry? Could it be that we might find many people in the community that demonstrate the "special spiritual gifts" George mentions? Could it be that if there were greater "equality of all the membership" Jenell mentions, there would be less "bad religion"?

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Robert wrote: "But can there be a Christianity that is a "Way of Living" rather than a "ticket to heaven", where people are trained and lifted up in a way that avoids Nietzsche's "Will to Power"?


Well, actually, I think that's been one approach tried more than once, and present as an idea in many of today's churches. but the rub seems to come in from just who decides what that "Way of Living" consists of and involves.


Some obvious examples, Mennonite and Amish, decided "godly" Christians are called to live a certain life or rather lifestyle, however they seem to have neglected to think a lot on why 19th century rural America was the right model.


We can hear a lot of talk about "the Christian lifestyle" from other Christians, preached in sermons and SS classes, on tv and radio ministries, online and in books on Christianity...but just try to pin down exactly what this "Christian lifestyle" actually means and entails, and things kinda get all over the place. For some peeple, especially the devotedly "churched", it may boil down to attending church service regularly, don't drink or cuss or smoke, don't go to "dens of iniquity" like bars and night clubs, vote for Conservative Republicans, maybe have a "pro-life" bumbper sticker on your car...


For others, of which I am one, and I think some others here are too, it means a way of life that sincerely tries to honor and respect and love others, try to be honest in all our business-of-life dealings, and try to avoid the personal weaknesses that come of pride or any specific weakness one may be prone to.


For me, it also means sincerely trying to understand myself and other better, and to seek into the nature of God as I can with my mortal human capacities, as limited and flawed as they might be.


We can talk about Christianity as a "Way of Life", but then there's no concensus on just what that means and entails.



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Jenell, you raise some great points, especially given our Baptist backgrounds. I remember going to week-long revival meetings where we heard sermons on the evils of dancing, playing cards, and listening to rock and roll. The devil was outside waiting for us. HA!


A few thoughts...


1) Perhaps it is possible to differentiate between a "way of living" and a 'lifestyle". It seems to me a lifestyle is more superficial, perhaps the result of the decision about a "way of living". Choosing not to play cards, or live in the woods, could be viewed as a second level "lifestyle" choice. But choosing "to honor and respect and love others" seems to me more of a "way of living".


2) In any case, as you correctly note, "the rub seems to come in from just who decides what that 'Way of Living' consists of and involves". In too many of the examples we might think of, the decision has been made on the basis of one charismatic central figure. The ideas of this single figure are adopted by the community, and thereafter effected generations. In a sense, this is the history of Western civilization. As an example from a previous post, think of how many people have struggled with the idea of double predestination, how many churches believe it as doctrine, all coming from one charismatic figure - John Calvin. It seems to me that coercion is the problem, and that it can be reasonably argued that the life of Jesus singularly contradicts all forms of coercion. In the end coercion is simply violence in the guise of superior status.


3) Christianity is nothing, if it is not based on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who founded no religion, and taught no system of belief, but only a form of life or a way of living. Practice alone, which the early Christians called agape, is the basis of Christianity. In the end it is the beauty of Christ, and not the historical evidence or intellectual argument that allows us to decide on this way of life.


Best wishes...

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