Kneebone ordination in Culver was historic event

November 25 saw what may be an unprecedented event at Grace United Church of Christ in Culver: the ordination of its pastor to the status of minister -- which means church members can call her "Reverend" AnnMarie Kneebone now.

Kneebone began her time at both Grace and First United Church of Christ in Plymouth (the two churches are "yoked," or share a pastor) in June, 2011 as an interim pastor. She says in the UCC tradition, a potential pastor attends seminary and then takes on the status of a "person in discernment" with the Northwest Indiana Association of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC, through the recommendation of a local church, which in Kneebone's case was the First Congregational UCC Church in Elkhart.

Then, she says, the candidate spends a few years in discernment, during which "it's all about covenant: creating relationships and accountability, as well as the fact that each church is autonomous.

That, coupled with a commitment to accountability and covenant is what keeps us strong."

Kneebone developed relationships in the Association with various governing committees, primarily the Committee on Ministry, writing a paper and going before an ecclesiastical council where she was asked a number of questions, theoretical, theological, and practical.

"There's a lot of getting to know you through that process, to see if you're a qualified candidate for ordination," she notes.

She was then voted to be ordained, pending a call to a specific church, which can be initiated in a variety of ways.

Grace and First United Churches were actively looking for a minister while Kneebone was acting as interim, and followed up on a few potentials, without really making a connection.

"The churches (Grace and First United) here felt a connection to me in a way they felt was important enough that they contacted the council and asked if I could be a candidate," she says. "Because of our unique situation of our being yoked, the conference said they would shift my title from interim pastor to designated pastor...you're not saying, 'Yes, I'm committed to being here,' but I'm more than interim."

That was in July, and Kneebone was asked if she felt God was calling her towards those churches, something she says was initially unexpected for her.

Kneebone's ecclesiastical council was held at First UCC in Plymouth. On Decision Sunday in October, the vote took place regarding her status: at Grace in Culver just after she'd left for First UCC in Plymouth that Sunday morning, and at First UCC after she'd finished the service there.

"I got to take a walk (while they voted)," she laughs.

Culver's Grace congregants headed to Plymouth where the two churches shared vote counting tasks (and lunch, whose preparation was also shared by both churches' members).

The results of that vote, of course, culminated on Sunday, Nov. 25 with Kneebone's ordination, which she felt should appropriately be at Grace, since the events leading up to it took place at First UCC.
Technically, two major events took place that day: not only Kneebone's ordination, but also her installation to both individual church bodies. While both Grace UCC and First UCC have been the sites of ministerial installations in the past, Kneebone doesn't believe actual ordinations have taken place at either.

During ordination, the Northwest Association ordains the minister, says Kneebone, though the Committee on Ministry is also a part of the ordination, and each entity has a representative. Plymouth's own Rev. Ron Leichty -- as pastor emeritus at First UCC and a past interim pastor at Grace -- did an exhortation during both the ordination and installation. Representatives of both churches, as well as clergy from other area churches, also participated.

"That's a lot of what the UCC is about," says Kneebone, "is participation and collaboration, as well as accountability and covenant. So having all those people represent those different groups is a representation of our polity and focus."

There were also many special people to Kneebone in attendance Nov. 25, including the person who first encouraged her to attend seminary (who journeyed here from the suburbs of Chicago), Kneebone's best friend since first grade, her 85 year old father, her brother and sister-in-law and their children, and others.

"So the intensity of that ceremony was high because of all the input from everybody's life into mine," she explains, "which culminated in this recognition of being called by God, and they were witnesses.

"The process of being ordained is like many other processes: you have things that show your aptitude and abilities. But then the witnesses there that day (of ordination) from the actual committees I talked to, to those longtime friends and mentors, and having both churches come together at one site and be witnesses too, and say together, 'We agree we want you to become our pastor.

"The church was pretty full that day," she acknowledges.