In my ordination to the holy office of Minister of Word and Sacrament (I know we are Teaching Elders now, but it is a different title for different work and I really feel committed to former more than the latter) I promised to uphold the peace, unity, and purity of the church. I remember of all my ordination vows this one made me the most uncomfortable, and possibly that I might be lying. We are after all Protestants, who since Martin Luther have pretty much decided that if I disagree with you I can simply take my toys and make my own church. In other words, we aren’t the unity people and we don’t get much instruction in that vein. Second, when I came through seminary and early ministry sexual purity was being mandated in punitive ways through the Book of Order and I really wondered about how I was going to live in healthy balance as a person in my culture and as an unmarried ordained person. And how does anyone link individualism and shame with peacekeeping (unless we mean it like we mean it in our culture, where the term definitely and always includes tanks and now drones.)
So this particular ordination vow always catches my special attention when I offer it to soon to be elders and deacons at their ordination. I watch theirs faces carefully to see what emotions are flitting there as they are asked to make this complicated vow. If only it wasn’t filled with so many trigger words, or histories of failure. If only it was worded a little more like it is in Second Peter 3:14, “Therefore, beloved . . . be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” Maybe then it would be encouraging and feel doable. But in as much as these promises stretch me, I need to be stretched. It is good that they catch my attention and cause me to ask: “How do I understand that?” and “What do I mean when I say these words?”
Of the three part vow to uphold peace, unity, and purity, I intended to write solely about purity today. The idea of purity has been presenting itself to me in a number of places lately. I have been challenged to examine what I think purity in the church is all about. So I definitely think that right considerations of purity in the church should be held to the standard of the Good News. Purity should promote the good news of reconciliation to God and eternal life in Jesus Christ. With that as my guide I think about striving toward pure justice; or setting a goal of pure truth-telling; or to be always walking toward pure love; or to be ever trying to practice pure devotion to God. Those are things probably not attainable by mere humans, and yet, working on them seems to be the way in which I can exemplify the Kingdom more fully and live in Christ’s wholeness more fully.
This is indeed a curious faith we have, in which we must navigate between defined ideas and norms of living the faith—commandments, and laws, and books of order, and such—and the freedom of life in Christ—to be fully alive, to drink from the living waters and be refreshed, to be linked into the source of life and made whole. Finding purity in this dichotomous landscape is an endeavor that requires a good bit of intention. This brings to my mind William Martin’s reflection on Reverence:
A sense of reverence and awe in the Presence of God cannot be learned, cannot be taught.
Without awe, people turn to doctrine.
Without reverence people turn to rules.
Doctrine and rules can be taught and learned.
The pastor resists the temptation to teach.
She steps out of the way and points to the Presence of God.
Reverence and awe are born in the people’s hearts.
That’s the way I would like to pursue purity in faith, not with doctrine and rules, but in reverence and awe. That is the path to be found by Christ in peace, spotless and blameless. I sure hope so.
 William C. Martin, The Art of Pastoring, Contemplative Reflections, 1994.
The Rev. Katie Rivera Torea has served as the first installed pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Middletown since August of 2010. Katie prepared for ministry at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and proud to be one of a number of College of Wooster Alums in Hudson River Presbytery. She loves Louise Penny novels, fuzzy-faced critters, seeing birds up close, and Rocky Road ice cream.