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Monday, May 25, 2009

Ordination

Mine took place on June 25, 1995 in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a powerful time of being called into ministry, having my pastoral gifts affirmed by the whole church, and understanding a bit of what I was getting myself into. After answering the questions posed to us by the President of the denomination, we received a Bible that I still use and enjoy to this day. On the inside cover are written these words: "Receive this book; here are the words of eternal life. Take them for your guide and declare them to the whole world. Keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd. Encourage the faithful, restore the lost, build up the body of Christ; that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive the unfading crown of glory." Powerful words that still stir my heart a bit. At the time of my ordination, I was chaplain at North Park University. I have enjoyed keeping in touch with many of the students who came through the university while I was there. Facebook has reunited me with many who I had lost track of. Many of the students I was close to are involved in ministry either as clergy or active lay people. I am thankful for that. Perhaps I played some small role in encouraging them in their spiritual journey. A clear highlight for me was the privilege that was mine to walk many through the process of becoming husband and wife. What a gift to walk through pre-marital counseling with several young couples and also officiate at many of their weddings. It is thrilling to see how they care for one another, their children and the church today. I feel a sense of gratitude that they allowed me to share in their lives while they were in college and I feel an even more profound sense of gratitude that they continue to be in touch so many years down the road.
Now, I am preaching the word every other week to a flock that genuinely looks like the whole world through our ministry at Immanuel International. This past week-end a series of events unfolded that caused me to feel such a profound sense of gratitude and awe that I've been chosen to serve in pastoral ministry. I do feel that it is such a privilege for Doug and me to serve this church. So many amazing things are unfolding in our midst, and have been unfolding for the past 11 years. It is exciting, challenging, satisfying and overwhelming all at the same time.
So what are these events that have sparked such thoughts in me? The main event of the week-end was the ordination of Sam Nweze. Sam is a Nigerian man who came to Sweden many years ago with his wife, who is half Swedish/half Nigerian. They felt that the future was brighter for them in Sweden than in Nigeria so they uprooted themselves and came to what was a very foreign land. They quickly immersed themselves into the life of Immanuel International Church. Sam was on the board of the church when we were called as pastors. He is one that I remember most clearly. We became fast friends after we arrived and our relationship with Sam continued to grow year after year. It became obvious to us early on that Sam had pastoral gifts and so we nurtured and encouraged him to pursue this calling. This was not easy. Financial burdens, language barriers, and cultural roadblocks stood in the way. Even so, he persevered. Eventually he made the decision to pursue theological education in Chicago at North Park Seminary. We were thrilled with his chance to go and study in a great environment. It was not possible for him to move his wife and three kids and so the separation was tough. Sadly, his marriage fell apart during this time period and yet, Sam still felt that through the grace of God he should continue to pursue his calling as a pastor. He eventually completed his Masters of Divinity and moved back to Sweden. He secured a call as pastor of a new English language International church on the south end of Stockholm. The existing church is a Swedish Mission Covenant church that was experiencing severe decline. The demographic of the area showed a clear shift towards the immigrant community and therefore the church felt that an outreach to English speakers could be the spark that they needed. It has worked well. There is much work to be done but Sam has taken on the mantel of pastor with great courage and strength and the church is growing and learning to thrive.
In addition to the way in which ordination affirms his call, he is also the first African to be ordained in the Swedish Mission Covenant Church. This represents a clear signal that immigration is here to stay in Sweden and it also raises in obvious ways what it means to be "Swedish" and "Covenant". In America we've been dealing with issues related to diversity and heritage for quite some time, but here in Sweden it is still a very new conversation. Sam's ordination as a Swedish Mission Covenant pastor and his leadership of a Swedish Mission Covenant church is such an important step in the Covenant's journey towards becoming a more racially diverse church that understands the importance of reaching out to the immigrant community.
And the immigrant community came out in droves to support Sam. Many members from his new congregration were there to support him. Many members from Immanuel International were on hand to cheer him on and be blessed by this wonderful affirmation of Sam's call. There was a clear sense that Sam had been nurtured and urged on by his local congregation and what a thrill it was to see it all come to fruition. Especially moving for me was when Sam and Doug embraced in a huge bear hug after the service. Sam's heartfelt gratitude to Doug for his mentoring presence in his life was so powerful for me to witness and Doug was clearly moved by seeing Sam accomplish this goal that they had spoken of for years.
On Sunday afternoon more than 350 people showed up to celebrate Sam's ordination! What a clear signal of God's amazing outpouring of blessing in Sam's life and what a thrill to see the body of Christ rejoice over seeing one of their own accept the call to "Keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd. Encourage the faithful, restore the lost, build up the body of Christ; that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive the unfading crown of glory."
Praise be to God for His unfailing goodness.