Blessed By Hands

Published: October 4, 2012

On September 9th, 2012, I was ordained to the Gospel ministry. This means I am committed to the calling of ministry, that I wish to walk with people through life in moments of great joy and terrible sadness, and that I want to stand up to say, “I believe in a wide and vast love for all people, in justice for those on the backside of society, for mercy and equality for people and creation–and it’s because I believe it’s the way of Jesus!”–whether that’s in the church pulpit or the public square.

I became Reverend Chris Hughes. And that itself, for anyone who knew me way back when (and perhaps even my colleagues now), is a miracle.

Yet the even greater miracle is that I became a Baptist minister while studying at an ecumenical school. At the School of Divinity, we describe ourselves as “Christian by tradition, Baptist in heritage, ecumenical in outlook.” Such a description may sound as though we are progressively abandoning those elements as we go and that the school aims to blend together a brand of generic Christianity for future church leaders.

This is not the case at Wake Forest, though. The great wonder of coming to an ecumenical school is that it puts you in conversation with a broad spectrum of traditions, denominational structures, cultures, ethnicities, perspectives and theologies. True, there may be some who will enter the school and find their faith identity change drastically because of exposure to these different traditions. But the wonderful irony for many of us is that while we learn and engage in other faith traditions and with other faith leaders, we actually learn more about our own faith tradition.

When we hear someone articulating their beliefs about the Lord’s Supper, what it means, who leads it, and how we take it, we stop to examine our own beliefs and what our traditions say about its meaning. And when I came to my ordination council, I had to struggle with my own understanding of ordination in a tradition that affirms a priesthood of ALL believers. The great wonder is in an environment of great diversity, we can actually become sharper in our understanding of our particular traditions.

By ecumenical in outlook, we mean that we will stretch and challenge one another and become better for it. Being ecumenical means we also celebrate one another. We root each other on while celebrating in chapel the particularities of each different tradition. We ponder together the future of those traditions. We help build bridges across denominational, generational, theological, political, social, economic divides where we can. And when one of us reaches a significant milestone–a first sermon, a birth, a death, a community gathering, or even ordination to a particular tradition–we gather and celebrate.

It is a great wonder that on September 9th, 2012, I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry as a Baptist minister from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. It is a great wonder that two John Leland Baptists, a Quaker, and a half-Methodist half-Baptist hybrid served on my ordination council. Great wonder that one of my charges to ministry was delivered by a Presbyterian minister and another by a tattooed-bearded-farmer-Baptist-preacher. Great wonder that on ordination day, hands were laid on me by a Lutheran, a Quaker, a Presbyterian, and a whole host of fierce, country Baptists.

For me, it is great and it is wonderful. It is why I find more beauty in my own tradition now that I have been challenged and changed by the School of Divinity.

Chris Hughes
Third Year MDiv