Skip to content

There’s Only One Rev./Dr. Dan Orme: Forging a New Path into Ordained Ministry

by Carson T. Clark on February 11, 2013

There are three types of people in this world. Each has a different response when told as a child not to touch the hot stove. The first is the type who simply must get burned. For them the learning process is primarily experiential in nature. It often requires feeling the pain of mistakes. The second is the type who becomes overly cautious and forevermore avoids that stove. For them the learning process is cautious. It’s often driven by a mild fear of making a mistake or getting hurt. The third type heeds the warning, then calls the first type dumb and tells the second type to stop being a wuss. It’s a common sense learning process that’s driven by practicality. I was that kid.11.While I now work to curb, or perhaps channel, the excesses of that approach, it nonetheless remains my default.

I’ve long been intentional about seeking wisdom and counsel from older, godly men and women. It’s become one of my healthiest habits. I’ve never been the sort of person who feels compelled to make his own mistakes or fears taking risks. I want to move forward, but I’d prefer to get it right the first time.22.This is a big part of why I was a history major. Yet as I’m now 28 years old and approaching ordination in just over two weeks I find myself feeling terribly alone. I’m without someone to tell me about the proverbial hot stove of ordained ministry. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been profoundly blessed to be mentored by many great pastors, but the truth is I’ve met precisely one who gave me hope for my own ministry.33.That is, I’ve met only one pastor who showed me that I too could be a successful pastor by living into who God made me to be.

Rev./Dr. Dan Orme and I are wired the same way. There are a number of important differences, of course.44.Dan is thoroughly Reformed and I’m definitively not. He’s Presbyterian and I’m Anglican. I tend to appreciate psychology whereas he does not. Born more than 50 years earlier, Dan probably has more patience for fundamentalists than do I while I’m less territorial than he is. That sort of thing. Yet on the whole we share the same general personality type, sense of humor, ministry philosophy, commitment to the life of the mind, and vision for the American Church. Dan is the one pastor I’ve known who steadfastly refuses to in any way dumb it down or act like a salesman. Instead he embraces his critical mind and delightfully curmudgeon nature in order to help form healthy, mature disciples. Tragically, Dan has dementia. I’m immensely grateful to have caught the last couple years of his lucidity, but I cannot call him up and ask for guidance or criticism.55.To give some examples:
-Who I can trust implicitly or need to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove around.
– What are appropriate occasions for lament or celebration, depression or hope.
– When I need to stick to my principles or when it’s a stupid hill to die on.
– Where I should be investing time and energy and where I should be letting go.
– Why I need to keep something on my radar even if it seems unimportant.
– How to distinguish inane criticism that’s best ignored or God speaking through an ass.

One criticism I’ve continually faced the past several years is that of being a headstrong young man who insists upon doing things his own way. If I may be perfectly candid, that’s crap. It’s not hard to see why people would perceive me in that way, but that interpretation is equal parts ignorant and myopic. I’d much rather learn from others! And have continually worked to do precisely that despite being unable to find another truly kindred spirit. The trouble is, well-intentioned people I dearly love keep projecting their own temperament, calling, life circumstances, and perspectives onto me–thereby trying to get me to be and do things that just aren’t the right fit. It’s vexing.

Dan Orme’s life has long been my source of hope. For years now, whenever I’ve felt misunderstood or sensed my hope for pastoral ministry fading I’ve recalled his ministry at University Church.66.If God could use him, surely He can use me as well. As I was thinking on this recently, however, a truth I’ve long avoided finally started to sink in: As pastors go, Dan really was unusual. The chances of my finding another one like him to shepherd my infant ministry is remote. It just ain’t gonna happen.77.It’d be like hoping to win the lottery twice. In some real sense, it seems God wants me to figure it out myself. It’s contrary to my nature but the only option left is to forge my own path, mistakes and all. Despite my preferences it seems I’m going to have to touch the hot stove.


For a bit more insight into Dan Orme, here are some memorable quotes and a picture:

While it’s true that great minds think alike, do remember that fools share the same pattern.

You’re never going to find the right answer until you start asking the right question… Stop it. Stop glossing over the problem. Until you’re honest with yourself about the issue, you won’t see clearly what you’re searching for.

I love hippies but hate their rabbit food.

Here [in the sermon] I’ve spent a good deal of time criticizing the American Church. So as not to fall into the sin of pride, let me briefly enumerate the self-evident flaws of our local body…

Over the years I’ve intentionally refused to use this pulpit as a political platform. Those issues should be discussed, and need to be discussed, by this church. But not in the sermon. It would be divisive and foolish to explicitly address them here or to, heaven forbid, insinuate that holy God endorses fallen candidates or parties. What should be addressed are the biblical principles that come to bear on those issues, though. This may seem evasive, but in my view it’s the exact sort of sophistication that’s too rare in the American Church today.

Dan Orme around 1980

  • Brendan

    “It’s vexing.”
    This vexes me. I’m terribly vexed… :)

  • Ethan McCarthy

    That’s a tight tshirt

  • mrjmitch

    I love Dan Orme – He helped me find my faith in 1972

    • Becky

      mrjmitch, Me, too! Did you go to U.C. in the early days at The Upper Room or Memorial Hall? Or to Dan’s Bible studies in his cottage on Talmadge? I did in ’73 or thereabouts and joined U.C. in ’75. We might have been around at the same time. Dan’s always been a guiding light for me, as well as a beloved friend. I took the photo above, and in the window, which can be see fully in the bigger photo, Priscilla, his ornery Siamese cat, can be see glaring out the window at Gina, his poodle.I think you might see a ghostly outline of her face here.

  • Becky

    another Dan Orme quote: “That’s very interesting.” Meaning, “You’re skating very close to the edge of heresy.” or “That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

  • Brad Keena

    I would consider Dan Orme my greatest mentor.
    I remember the upper room, the pineapple upside-down cake he made after bible study at his home on Sunday, and the old ship hatch he used for a desk in his study at the church.

%d bloggers like this: