Ask a YCW: Ordination Etiquette Edition

Post Author: Askie

Dear Askie,

My college roommate is being ordained as a Presbyterian minister next month, and I’m traveling to attend her ordination. I’m Christian (Episcopalian, specifically), but I’ve never been to an ordination before. Is there anything I need to know? More importantly, I’d like to give her a gift for her ordination, but I’m not sure what to give her – is a Bible too obvious?


Supportive Friend of an almost-YCW

Dear SF,

What a thoughtful friend you are! I can only imagine how your college roommate cherishes your friendship… and it will be even more precious as the years go on. I want to affirm what a meaningful gesture it is for you to attend her ordination. For ministers, this is one of the most significant moments in our lives, as we take life-long vows that will shape and guide our entire personal and professional lives. Lay people sometimes don’t understand how important this moment is in ministers’ lives, but it sounds like you do. Thanks and blessings to you for that!

Askie isn’t Presbyterian, but can give you a general sense of what to expect at many Protestant ordination service. If you’re accustomed to Christian worship, you can expect an ordination service to feel largely familiar. There are likely to be hymns, scripture readings, prayers, and a sermon. Hopefully, there will be a bulletin that helps visitors to know when to sit, stand, or (possibly) kneel, when you’re expected to say “Amen” or “Thanks be to God,” and whether you’re supposed to say “trespasses,” “debts,” or “sins” during the Lord’s Prayer.

There will be a section of the service where your friend will come forward to take ordination vows, and then there will be a “laying on of hands.” This practice varies from one denomination to another. In some denominations, a Bishop lays hands on the ordinand and prays for them. Other traditions (including Presbyterianism) invite all ordained people. A few traditions invite all baptized Christians or the whole congregation forward to join in the laying on of hands. In any case, through prayer and the laying on of hands, she will be set apart to serve Christ and the church. After your friend is ordained, she will be given a stole, a symbol of her identity as an ordained minister who has taken on the “yoke of Christ.” Many ordination ceremonies also include a celebration of the Eucharist, with the newly-ordained minister presiding at the table.

Going on to the second part of your question, SF, it’s very kind of you to want to give your friend an ordination gift! (Ordination gifts are welcome and treasured, but certainly not expected or required.) You’re probably right that a Bible is “too obvious”; more specifically, she’s likely to already have several Bibles, and to receive several more. Here are a few options that Askie and her YCW colleagues have appreciated:

  • A Stole: This is an especially apt gift because we can’t wear stoles until we’re ordained… and then we need them in a variety of colors and designs appropriate to the various church seasons, holidays, and events! If you’d like to give your friend a stole, it might be wise to ask her what she needs, so she doesn’t end up with four red stoles and no green. There are lots of beautiful stoles available online, ranging from very simple to very elaborate.
  • Book store gift certificate: Ministers always need more books! This is a great way to enable her to make the choice herself – maybe she has her eye on a set of commentaries for sermon preparation, a scholarly volume for a study group she’s planning, or a spiritual memoir. Maybe she’ll pick up a book from TYCWP’s imprint with Chalice Press!
  • Art: A small, meaningful piece of religious art to hang on the wall of her office can be a wonderful gift for a newly ordained minister! Of course, lots of religious art is horrifically tacky, so use your judgment. (Or go campy, if she’s the kind of person who appreciates that!) It doesn’t have to break the bank – a favorite scripture verse in a frame, a photograph of her childhood church, something by a local artist, or a reproduction of a painting are all wonderful choices.
  • Self-care supplies: Ministers give their time and energy, body and soul, to caring for others. We’re frequently reminded that we need to care for ourselves as well, but it’s sometimes easier said than done. A wonderful ordination gift would be something that helps your friend to make sure she is getting the rest and renewal she needs to be able to care for others. It might be art supplies or hiking gear, gift certificates for the movie theatre or the nail salon. You know better than I do what would be good for her soul!

More than any of the above, though, SF, one especially meaningful thing you can do is to promise to pray for her, and follow through. Let her know that you do it. It will mean the world to her, really. And stay in touch with her, even though she never calls you back in December. Every YCW – every clergy person – needs good friends. So thanks to you, SF, for being one, and thanks to all the other friends of YCWs out there.



Image by: Province of Saint Joseph
Used with permission
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