Why I Got Ordained Online

I was ordained on January 12. This may come as a big surprise if you happen to have followed my life in the last year (an egotistical assumption, I know. I’m barely following my own life). In fact, it was about one year ago that I decided to NOT get ordained.

I wrote this piece to help articulate why after spending four years, accruing $15,000+ in student loan debt, and receiving a Master of Divinity degree I finally decided not to pursue ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I had invested a lot of my life in the idea of ordained ministry, and so you can imagine how difficult that decision was for me.

So why get ordained after all? And why online?

On January 12 two of my very, very dear friends ask me to officiate their upcoming wedding. Now I have been asked to officiate a number of weddings over the past five years, a request for which I am always deeply grateful. And yet there was something markedly different about this most recent request.

Perhaps it was because of how well I know and love my friends. Perhaps it was because of how well they know and love me. Perhaps a semester of doctoral work in practical theology has softened some of my edges. Whatever it was, I felt my entire view of ordination, the ritual of marriage, and the human endeavor to narrate life meaningfully begin to shift.

To understand what shifted, one must understand what was before. I have always had a deep appreciation for the office of pastor. I see that vocation as a beautiful invitation into the most intimate, sacred spaces of peoples’ lives. A significant part of my being feels created for that work, and yet I never felt like I found a way to be “me” in that role. Most of that role felt like an inauthentic performance to appease an institution. In other words, what existed in me before was a deeply felt appreciation for pastoral work and a simultaneous resistance to an institutional mold.

So what shifted? I heard in my friends’ request a profound need to have their rite of passage marked and narrated in a meaningful way. I heard a request to bear witness to the celebration of their union not simply on their behalf but also on behalf of the community that loves and supports them. I heard an invitation to help author this part of their story, not as a representative of an institution but as Kari. I heard a direct call to the authentic me.

And so I got ordained online – not as a way to spite any institution or disrespect my friends who continue their lives in love and service to the church. I got ordained online in order to respond to a call to help two dear friends meaningfully mark a new phase of life together. I got ordained online because I believe that life is full of immeasurable opportunity and freedom to love my fellow children of the universe.

I got ordained online because in some way I still hear that I am called to the office of pastor, though my office is not currently in a building.

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5 thoughts on “Why I Got Ordained Online

  1. Congratulations, Rev. Kari! It sounds like a challenging, interesting decision. You, no doubt, will be a fabulous pastor — irrespective of the many choices you choose to make in terms of direction.

  2. Lovely piece Kari. As a seminary professor helping prepare women and men for ordination it was powerful to read about your decision to get ordained online and what kept you completing the ordination path through a traditional denominational route (for now any way).

  3. I’m deeply glad that you found a way to honor your calling and the calling that came through your friends to you. But I can’t help thinking that there is something really wrong with the system in which I teach that you could not grow into ordination there, but instead chose this alternative. Just out of curiosity, which online path did you find most conducive? (I’m partly curious because my brother-in-law chose an online path as well, primarily for the ability to witness marriages.)

  4. Thanks for your reflections. Do you think you would’ve been ordained online if you hadn’t attended seminary? That is, do you see your ordination as resting on what you learned there, or do you see this as something separate from that endeavor?

  5. “I heard a request to bear witness to the celebration of their union not simply on their behalf but also on behalf of the community that loves and supports them.”

    I am always so surprised about the reality of “calls” – however we want to name them (I used to use that word, but am no longer exactly sure what to use for myself). The work of religious leaders is *so*particular*! I, too, was on a path to ordination, in the UMC, and left for a few reasons (not really Christian, polity around queers). After becoming Jewish, though, the urge towards clergy work popped up again, for really similar reasons: a really clear desire and impulse to be with people in the stuff of their life, to bear witness to their joys and sorrows, to help shape learning and to have space to really just be with this wondrous world we are in.

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