My ordination service was a great blessing
In a day when it has become all too common for people to enter Christian ministry to be self-determining their ‘call,’ an orderly approach to the Christian ministry and church planting is welcomed.
Like much of our modern world, people demand things occur much faster than they did in the past. But, as human experience has proven time and time again, slow and steady regularly beats thoughtless haste.
My own steps to ordination seem to have taken a long time. But in that process there has been an opportunity for maturity essential for the work. Part of me would have entered full-time ministry immediately following my conversion in 2002. But here I am, ordained 13 years later.
For those that don’t know, the process to ordination to the Christian ministry in Presbyterian churches usually follows a number of steps:
Church Membership: This is when the individual perceives a local church to be where God would have them, wants to support it, and welcomes the authority of the church through its overseeing elders. Most seminaries and colleges will not accept applications from people that are not members of a local church. I joined Ballymoney Free Presbyterian Church (now known as Hebron FPC) around April 2003. I had been attending every service in that church since my conversion in May 2002, had been involved in various ministries of the church from the beginning and I loved it.
Come Under Care: This is when, primarily upon the recommendation of the local church in which you have been a member, you are brought under the oversight of the larger body of the denomination which has oversight of the body that will train you for the ministry. A committee of the presbytery will interview you for acceptance into their college or seminary. I had been under the care of the Mission Board of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster for my two-year stint in Australia, but I came under the care of the Presbytery in 2009 just prior to my entrance into The Whitefield College of the Bible. I still remember having to preach 1 John 1:9 to those men.
Licensure: Upon finishing your training there is an examination by a committee of the presbytery. If they are content, they will recommend that the presbytery accept you as a candidate for Christian ministry in the denomination, and then you will be licensed, usually with other men that have completed their studies. For me, this occurred on September 9, 2014.
Calling: Once you are licensed, churches that are looking for a minister are at liberty to vote for a licensed candidate. Each denomination may have different approaches in how they conduct their vote and what the requirements are, e.g. the denomination may require a minimum percentage of the votes be in favor of a candidate. Someone licensed may receive a call from a church quickly, or they may never receive a call. For me, this occurred on September 18, 2014, when the members of Calgary Free Presbyterian Church met and voted for me to be their minister. The call must then be upheld and ratified by the presbytery. At that point, the call is extended to the candidate, and he has to accept or decline the call before the presbytery (elders and ministers of the collective churches). In my case, because the call came from a church within another denomination, the Free Presbyterian Church of North America, it had to be ratified by them (that occurred October 10, 2014) and presented to the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, who then presented the call to me on November 7, 2014. I accepted, and we began to plan our move to Canada.
Ordination: In his Dictionary of Theological Terms, Dr. Alan Cairns says
“The act of initial induction into a ministry by the presbytery (1 Tim. 4:14), expressing its judgment that one who has received a call from a local church to the office of teaching or ruling elder is indeed called and qualified by God. By the laying on of hands the candidate is set aside for the office to which he has been called, and that calling is thereby publicly acknowledged and confirmed.”
Because I was known and trained in Northern Ireland, it made sense for my ordination to take place there, rather than that expression of judgment coming from the FPCNA. My ordination took place on January 16, 2015. I’ll detail more about that in a moment.
Installation: Once the licensed candidate has been ordained, he can be installed as the minister of the church that called him. Often when there’s an ordination the installation occurs on the same night. That didn’t happen in my case. I will be installed by the presbytery of the FPCNA on March 6, 2015, after we arrive in Calgary.
And that’s it. There’s usually a period of internship/assistance at the tail end of or after your studies, but the process follows something similar to the above across reformed denominations.
Getting back to my ordination, it was a very special time for us. It was held in my home congregation, presided by my minister, Rev. David Park, with participation from many men I admire and have helped me in various ways. The service went as follows:
Presiding – Rev Park (Minister of Hebron FPC)
Psalm 100 – 1st Version
Opening Prayer – Rev David Stewart (Portglenone FPC)
Scripture Reading – Rev Thomas Martin (Lisburn FPC)
Ordination Sermon – Rev Craig Dennison (Gardenstown FPC)
Greetings from Presbytery – Rev McCammon (Gilford FPC)
Prescribed Questions to the Minister Elect – Rev Ian Brown (Martyrs Memorial FPC and Clerk of Presbytery)
Subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith – Mr Armen Thomassian
Ordination Prayer – Rev John Greer (Ballymena FPC and Moderator of Presbytery)
Greetings from Calgary FPC – Rev Raymond McLernon
Hymn – I Have A Shepherd
Scripture Reading – Rev Garth Wilson (Sandown FPC)
Sermon – Rev John Greer (Moderator of Presbytery)
Greetings from Hebron Session – Mr Norman Hanna (Clerk of Hebron FPC)
Testimony – Rev Armen Thomassian
Hymn – Father Of Mercies! Condescend
Benediction – Dr Alan Cairns (Minister Emeritus of Faith FPC)
By the grace of God, I am what I am. Those are the words of the apostle Paul. All that he was, all that he did. All that was good about him, wasn’t him, but the grace of God in him. And this is something every Christian here I’m sure acknowledges, and I stand alongside you in that, and I stand here tonight as a testimony of God’s grace.
Yes, grace. It’s all of grace. God’s unmerited favour. There are many things in this world we know the value of and can fully appreciate even when we don’t own or experience it ourselves. But that’s not the case with grace. One knows nothing of its value unless one becomes personally conscious of it.
That’s why I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home. Neither of my parents were conscious of God’s grace in their lives, so they didn’t know to value it. And neither did I for the first 19 years of my life. Born in Scotland and raised in Ballymoney, I was never conscious of God’s grace. I loved people, loved my friends, loved my life, but I also loved my sin, which is a sure sign that you know little of grace. You see grace, my friends, always drives you away from the things God hates. Oh yes, a nice young fella to many, but a hater of God and a professed atheist.
Which is why on May 13, 2002, when I became conscious of grace, the things I loved that Jesus had to die for, became the things I hated. I can’t go into details of all that happened that night and leading up to it, but some of you here tonight remember those days. Within a fairly short space of time God saved an aunt, an uncle, my mum, myself, my wife, her mum and her grandmother. There was a breath of God among the youth, and in the midst of this I was converted to Christ, and the fires of those days still burn in my soul.
From almost the moment of my conversion coming up on 13 years ago, my understanding of the gospel compelled me to serve Jesus Christ. I waited in prayer for two years when God impressed upon my heart Luke 9:60, “Go thou and preach the kingdom of God.”
But it wasn’t until 2009 that I could commence training for the ministry. I wanted to do the two-year course, but Dr. Cairns thought I should do the four-year course, and you argue with him at your peril!
Of course, I had to pay a tax on my four years and eventually graduated in September past. I’m thankful for those years in the way you become thankful for any affliction. In all seriousness, it’s an excellent training ground, and I’m thankful to God for both principals, the lecturers, staff, and the gracious Matron who made the College feel warm and homely, which is no mean feat when everyone is weeping over the vocabulary of biblical languages!
Last year, in the providence of God, I was ministering in Hebron on July 13th. At the evening service Rev. Goligher and his wife were in attendance, and afterwards he asked me if I was willing to visit Calgary. No strings attached. He was thinking of the new year, but we set no dates. A little over a week later, 22nd July, he was back in Canada and phoned me hoping that I could go to Calgary in August. Arrangements were made and by August 14th I was in Calgary.
Just before I left, interest was expressed, and while I shared my willingness to consider a call to Calgary, I told the Rev. Goligher that I was scared at the thought, to which he replied, “as long as you’re not Jonah scared” (God asked Jonah to go to a city to preach and Jonah ran away).
On September 18th, Calgary met to vote and issued a unanimous call, but I can say that merely hours before they met, God settled any fears in the heart of my wife and I of what may lie ahead through the words of John 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” That’s all we’re asked to do, beloved, just follow Him. You’re always safe in the shadow of the Shepherd.
I want to thank the congregation in Calgary for calling me to be their minister. I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve them. In spite of my personal sense of inadequacy, there’s no way I would be standing here if God hadn’t intended it to be so. Being confident of that, I rest in the knowledge that He will continue to give me everything I need. I also wish to thank Rev. Goligher for his help in the whole process. That God has blessed Calgary in the absence of a pastor is not only a testament to the people there but also to Rev. Goligher’s labours and wisdom.
I want to thank you all for coming tonight. It’s a special night for me, my family, and for the church family here in Hebron, and you’ve had to brave the elements to be here. Some of you travelling the length of the country, and before God I can say that means the world to us.
To the Moderator and all the men who have and will participate in this service tonight, thank you. Each one has contributed in some to me getting to this point tonight, and among them there are those that have made contributions to my life I could never repay.
I also wish to thank the Rev. Park and my church family here in Hebron, but I’ll leave that until the Lord’s Day. Suffice to say, I feel more like the assisted than the Assistant.
That just leaves me to thank my family, which I feel I must do tonight. I firmly believe that when God intends to put his hand on someone that He wants to serve Him, His hand moves upon others to pray on their behalf. That can be traced through Scripture, and often the measure of a man is seen in the measure of the people who pray for him.
I think of those in both my family and Melanie’s; parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. People of grace who have prayed continually for us. I reserve myself to mentioning only two. For you see, like Timothy who had a godly mother and grandmother, so have I.
It’s on the wings of my grandmother’s prayers I am here. She is an immeasurable blessing to many, and the glory of it is that she doesn’t even know. I feel privileged that when my grandmother bows her head to pray and heaven opens before her I am on her heart and lips.
To mum, who else can say in these days that their mum is a winner of souls. I cannot think of you without blessing God. At times when I’ve been at breaking point and outside of Melanie you were the only one to know, God aided in answer to your prayers. You’re quiet, but your life speaks volumes. Remember, you handed me over to God, and God knows what He is doing with me.
Just before I finish I want to acknowledge my wife, Melanie. Her love, patience, support, encouragement, humility. The virtues I could ascribe to her are unending. I have found a virtuous woman, and her price is far above rubies. I am fully persuaded that the most important message a pastor can preach, is that which he and his wife preach by way of their relationship. You can’t preach the gospel if you don’t live the gospel with your wife. Without you, Melanie, I’m no preacher at all.
So we’re in this together, and it is once again that I thank the Lord for saving my soul, and for His grace to preach Christ as the only hope for sinners. “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, no sacrifice can be to great for me to make for Him.”
And on that ground we go. Brethren, pray for us. And may the Lord bless you all, for of Him, and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever, Amen.