When I was getting ready to be ordained, my dad called me up and said, “So, should we buy you a chalice?”
I thought about it for a minute, trying to imagine what on earth I would do with my own personal silver chalice.
I said, “Is that a thing?”
He said, “I thought so. When I was growing up, if a guy from the neighborhood got ordained, the family always bought him a chalice.”
I don’t know whether the personal chalice is still a custom for Catholic priests, but I was pretty sure I didn’t need one of my own. This did not help my family and friends with ordination gift selection at all. Still, they managed to give me some killer presents, several of which I use every single day. If you are on the hunt for an ordination gift or seminary graduation gift, here are a few ideas that are all but guaranteed to be well-received:
Diploma/certificate frame. It is pretty awesome to be able to show off your hard-earned ordination certificate or seminary diploma, but good frames are expensive, so often these treasured documents just sit in mailing tubes for years. If you have around $170 to spend and want a gift that is beautiful AND useful, buy your seminarian a frame with that special UV-protective glass so that the diploma won’t fade. There are a few ways to do this:
- Take your seminarian and her diploma or certificate to a custom frame store and pick out a frame together.
- Buy your seminarian a gift certificate to a custom frame store (an especially good option if she is about to move and would rather just leave the diploma in the mailing tube until she gets settled).
- Campus bookstores often sell diploma frames that are decked out with the school crest and stuff. Call your seminarian’s campus bookstore (or check out its website) and see if you can find one.
Magazine subscription. Now, there are some weird Christian magazines out there. I am not suggesting that you buy your new graduate a year’s supply of Above Rubies or Midnight Call. However, any of these could be a nice treat:
- Ruminate. A literary magazine with a faith perspective.
- Geez Magazine. Christian faith from an anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist point of view.
- The Christian Century. The flagship of progressive mainline Protestantism.
- Sojourners. The flagship of progressive evangelical Protestantism.
- Christianity Today. The flagship of conservative evangelical Protestantism.
- Books and Culture. The more erudite cousin of Christianity Today.
- Commonweal. An independent journal edited by Catholic laypeople.
- America. A Jesuit (Catholic) journal of faith and culture.
Wristwatch. There are many moments in ministry when you need to know the time, yet it is in decidedly poor taste to yank out your phone. (The graveside service that takes place immediately before the funeral, for example.) I’m not, like, into watches, but I do always wear one, in efforts to trick people out of noticing that I am also always late. If you’re not into watches either, I suggest buying a Timex, a Fossil, or a Skagen because they are sturdy and relatively cheap. My watch “collection” is as follows:
- Sporty watch that can get banged around and dressed up or down with different bands. If I could only own one watch, this would be it.
- Bracelet watch in the same tone as most of my jewelry (this model also comes in two-tone if you want to get fancy).
- Chronograph watch in black leather to go with all my clergy shirts. I love oversized men’s watches and was pleased when they came into style for women a couple of years ago. I may still look cartoonish wearing a ginormous watch on my smallish wrist, but at least I’m in good company now.
- Skeleton watch because I’ve always wanted one and I found it on sale. This watch has the bonus of being automatic, meaning it doesn’t require a battery, which is pretty great if you are like me and it takes you six months to get a watch battery changed.
- Dress watch, which comes in handy for officiating weddings. When I need a dress watch, I borrow the Skagen that my wife received as an eighth-grade graduation gift. As you can imagine, it’s been some time since she completed eighth grade, but that watch is still ticking.
Note: It is in staggeringly poor taste for a pastor to wear luxury goods that their congregants could never dream of affording. You might be fortunate enough to be able to buy your ordinand a Patek Philippe, but unless she will be serving in a very wealthy community, don’t expect her to wear it to work.
Monogrammed stationery. My priestly life is one long heroic endeavor to keep the U.S. Postal Service in business. Thank-you-for-running-the-evensong-reception notes. I-enjoyed-seeing-you-in-the-school-play notes. Sorry-to-hear-about-the-death-in-your-family notes. The-confirmation-class-appreciated-your-tour-of-the-sacristy notes. Any clergyperson worth her salt is always going to have a use for nice stationery and a decent pen.
My favorite custom stationery is from PaperSource. For non-custom cards with a religious tone, I like St. John’s Bible, Engaging Faith, Ministry of the Arts, Ben Wildflower, and these Blessing of St. Clare cards (I’ll admit I’m biased because my daughter is named for St. Clare).
Bookstore gift certificate with a heartfelt handwritten note suggesting your favorite religious book, which the recipient may then purchase herself. Why not just give her the book? There are a few reasons, buddy. First of all, she already has three copies of Mere Christianity. Second, books are heavy and she might be about to move. Third, how are you going to feel if you learn that the book that changed your life is, uh, not quite to her taste? Unless you know the recipient and her preferences VERY well, just let her pick the book out herself. With one exception …
Denominational prayer book or hymnal (bonus for engraving!). In my tradition, this is the Book of Common Prayer & Hymnal 1982. Engraving it with the recipient’s name is a nice touch so that other clergy don’t sneak off with it. Note: This is also a popular farewell gift from church internship sites, so do discreetly find out whether your seminarian already has one.
Why not a Bible? See above. I have an entire SHELF of Bibles in my office, not including the two very nice ones I was presented with at my two ordinations (diaconate and priesthood). It’s a nice thought and the recipient will surely appreciate the spirit of the gift, but you can find something else that will be put to better use.
Stole! Everybody loves a stole! See the Rock That Collar vestment guide for tips on colors and styles. Some sources for clergy stoles (no promises re: taste) are:
- Traditional: WomenSpirit, Almy, Gaspard, Cokesbury, Holy Rood
- Contemporary: Jeff Wunrow, Fashions by Sarah, Serendipity Stoles
- Fair Trade: MayaWorks, Education & More, Cokesbury
Remember, when in doubt, look for quality fabrics and simple design. A stole like this might make a good wall hanging, but woe to the Episcopalian or Lutheran who tries to pull off such a thing at the Sunday morning service.
Clerical attire. For my ordination, my cousins and aunts banded together and bought me a clergy dress from Casual Priest. It was a wonderfully lavish gift, but darned if I don’t wear that dress at least twice a week, every single week. The cost per wear is plummeting fast.
If you don’t have $220 or an army of relatives to help share the cost, I highly recommend the made-to-measure shirts and dresses from Clergy Image. A gift certificate for any amount is not a bad bet.
Cross necklace. Who needs points for originality when you can give a gift that the recipient will wear every day? As I’ve said before, a good size of cross to wear with a clergy collar is generally 1.5″-2.5″. A few of my favorites (all sterling silver because the quality for the price can’t be beat) are:
- Beveled edges
- Celtic design
- Deacon’s stole (note: this one is an appropriate gift for deacon ordinations, but not priest/elder ordinations)
- Plain design
Prayer manipulative. Is there a better term for “thing you hold while you pray”? Many world religions use prayer beads or something similar to help focus the mind during prayer. Depending on the recipient’s tradition, a rosary (with beads made from rose quartz, Connemara marble, Murano glass, lapis lazuli, or another pretty stone), Orthodox prayer rope, or set of Anglican prayer beads* can make a beautiful gift.
Almost every Christian tradition uses the cross as a symbol, so a simple wooden holding cross (sometimes called a “hand cross” or “palm cross,” not to be confused with a cross made out of palms) is also a good bet. One of my favorite ordination presents was a wooden cross from ByRon PalmCross, which I love to hold during daily silent contemplative prayer at my church. Rosary beads are too noisy for this purpose, although I confess that I sometimes say a decade of the rosary by counting on my fingers.**
*In my household, we refer to Anglican prayer beads as “the fake rosary.” I’ve never actually met anyone who uses these as part of a regular prayer practice, but I’m sure I will someday.
**I love to pray the rosary, provided I modify the Hail, Holy Queen to make it less depressing and the Fatima Prayer to make it less scary. More on this in some other post.
Travel Communion kit. I just bought a sterling silver necklace at our church rummage sale for $2, so I’m not sure why silver-plated communion items are so preposterously expensive. Almy has the nerve to call its smallest travel kit “economical” at $559. However, if you have an enormous amount of money or a LOT of relatives who want to chip in for a gift, some clergy like to have their own travel Communion kits. Engraving the kit with the recipient’s initials is a charming personal touch and will also prevent other clergy from mistaking it for their own.
Nice leather bag. To replace the ubiquitous grad-student backpack. My first pick will always be a leather tote big enough to hold a laptop and a prayer book. Some nice choices (all under $200, some under $100) include:
- Lucky Brand: Kean or Lina
- Fossil: Rachel, Kinley or Camilla
- Coach: Ava, Gallery or City
- Cole Haan: Bayleen or Bethany
- Calvin Klein: Hayden or Sonoma
As an aside, I enjoy watching what happens when handbag and shoe manufacturers trap themselves in overly restrictive naming schemes. “We promised our shareholders that all our purses would have women’s names starting with B … we’re starting to run out of ideas … er … how about … BAYLEEN?”
Massage gift certificate. Because not EVERY gift has to last a lifetime. Most graduate students are very short on money or time or both, and small luxuries often drop way down to the bottom of the priority list. I assure you that the gift of a nice massage will be very, very, very much appreciated.
Did you receive a treasured ordination gift that isn’t on this list? What do you like to give to friends who are completing seminary or getting ordained? Let me know in the comments!