What do abundant tropical flowers, red carpet, Latin religious music, pigeons, red  bishop miters, and a drone have in common?  If you guessed that they are all part of a Salvadoran Lutheran ordination event, you are correct!

We had been begging to hear a date for the ordination of our three scholarship students, Belinda, Cristian, and Wuilver, who were due to be ordained as Lutheran pastors in El Salvador.  Selfishly, we needed to plan our schedules and be watching for reasonably priced plane tickets.  (It was touch and go whether we would make the trip up to the last day given some medical issues each of us was experiencing.)

This long faith journey of Salvadoran ordination candidates is quite different from that of American ordination candidates, at least in the ELCA, who complete university and seminary studies followed by a call process by a specific congregation.

In El Salvador the candidates completed their university and seminary studies; however, in this case at least, they then were required to work as a group for an additional two years directly under the bishop’s tutelage on a weekly basis.  This was to be certain they were prepared for the work that lies ahead.  In this program they were expected to complete an additional thesis beyond the one they completed in seminary. 

They experience other differences than their American counterparts:  most of them are already serving as lay pastors in the country, and they are required to sign an agreement stating they do not expect to receive a salary.  You read that correctly.  They must work other part-time paying jobs in order to support themselves and/or their families.  Even a couple of days before the event, the bishop and his committee met individually with each candidate to review the results of the two years’ evaluation and make recommendations.  We know because we were standing outside the door with the nervous candidates awaiting their turns.

The day arrived for the big event.  We were among the first guests to arrive.  Yes, we got there two hours early, right behind the delivery of the many massive tropical flower arrangements carried in the side door and before the red carpet was laid down the center aisle of the church.  We watched the entire event unfold before our eyes including band set-up, microphones strategically laid out, women dusting the pews, men sweeping the floors, and children of the church decorating the ends of the pews with hand-decorated subversive crosses on sticks.

 An occasional pigeon flew in through the open doorway landing on the highest beam above the altar for the best view of the day’s event and then returned in flight through the same doorway it entered. (I’m guessing the children enjoyed watching this diversion.)

The first part of the service was the dedication of the renovated church sanctuary; it included a much-needed new roof, but basically the entire sanctuary was gutted and re-built.  Many of the visitors were no doubt heavy contributors to that project who would want to see the completion of it.  Interestingly enough, we had been worshiping at that church the day the first shovelful of dirt was lifted for that project to begin several years ago.  During the worship, the shovel was handed to the bishop in a symbolic gesture of completion.  That segment of the service had its own homily, liturgy, hymns, and words by many people.  Words of the hymns were projected onto the front wall of the sanctuary to help us sing along.  The newly-printed Spanish hymn book was also recognized.  One of our own ordinands, Cristian, was responsible for spearheading and devoting endless hours into that project.  Each ordinand received a copy of it.

Then a break took place for the ordinands to get ready for their part of the service.  All clergy attending were invited to process down the center aisle followed by the fourteen ordinands called by name as they processed two-by-two.  Another very full worship service complete with a second homily, reading of several scriptures, liturgy, songs, etc. ensued, led by a variety of clergy attending from supporting congregations around the world.  (I must commend whoever organized this event for including the participation of so many members of visiting clergy in the service.)

The ordinands came forward to receive robes and to kneel.  Any pastor from supporting congregations was invited to come forward to lay on their hands for the blessings to each one of them.  (Don was fortunate to reach two of our candidates at the same time, since they stood close together). Ordinands received oil blessings on their foreheads as the service commenced.  In addition to the new Latin American hymnal, each ordinand received a stole, a cross, and a certificate filling a large bag to take with them at the end of the service. 

Some of them took part in administering Holy Communion to all who were present.  The music during Holy Communion was my favorite part.  It consisted of call and response Latin American song repeated throughout the Communion service growing louder and more energetic to the point of their shouting the response part of it; it was peppy; it was infectious.  I loved it and I THOUGHT I was doing a video of it using my partner’s iPad.  I set it to video and panned the entire congregation.  However, when I checked it later, apparently, I forgot to push the record button.  DARN!  I really wanted to show the people back home how Latin American Communion music differs from our more subdued North American Communion hymns. 

Just when we thought that the service was winding down, or shall I say our tired sweaty bodies (no AC exists in the church) were hopeful that the service was winding down, an unexpected addition popped up.  The bishop who was presiding over this entire service bestowed honorary bishop status on three clergy members including his wife.  If I understood the translator correctly, the purpose was to give affirmation to those clergy who have faithfully served their communities for many years.  It was complete with their receiving the bishops’ red miter hats.

About that time the drone took off overhead circling above our heads and buzzing around the whole sanctuary.  Everyone exploded in laughter at this unexpected surprise.

During the sending as all processed down the aisle again, it was time for various sistered congregations and groups to take turns taking pictures of their special ordination candidate-now-pastor at the altar as well as bestow their own individual gifts.  Food was set up at the rear of the church.

Despite the length of time and the heat, we were overjoyed to be part of the service.  We were thrilled to see our scholarship students filling the entire front row of the balcony.  A van brought them in from their campesino community two hours away in order to watch their pastor, Cristian, be ordained on his special day.  Their waving balloons from their vantage point in the balcony at the end of the service indicated their exhilaration.

Seven hours later the event was over.  Yes, seven.  (Granted, two of them were due to our taxi arriving way too early.)  The length is partially due to translation into English for all of us North American visitors.  Speculation on my part is the idea was to capitalize on us out-of-town visitors because it was actually several events collapsed into one with a break in between. 

It was a very blessed day for all– ordinands, their families, and us, the guests.  Now the real work begins for these fourteen pastors.  We hope they will continue to work together supporting one another during difficult times that lie ahead.

We who have supported them through their studies must also continue to support them through their ministries.  Their call is not an easy one.  They will face many unforeseen struggles and challenges.  May God be with each and every one of them.


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.