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 Magazine. 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.) While it is possible to spend four or five or six or seven figures on a watch, you can also find plenty of elegant and professional options for much much less. Here are a few that I like, including a lot of Timex and Anne Klein at the lower end because neither brand has ever steered me wrong.
Options under $30:
- Anne Klein Two-Tone (gold/silver-tone band, rectangular white face)
- Timex Cavatina (black leather band, white face)
- Timex Uptown Chic (white leather band, white/gold-tone face)
- Timex Weekender (this version comes with a blue nylon band, but it’s easy to switch out bands to dress it up or down — my wife wears her Weekender with about half a dozen different watchbands, including black leather for dressing up and green-and-yellow nylon for Oregon game days. Go Ducks!)
Options under $50:
- Anne Klein Illusion Bangle (steel cable band, square white face)
- Anne Klein Silver-Tone (black leather band, white face)
- Timex Linwood Street (gold/silver-tone band, white face)
- Timex Weekender Chronograph (various band and face color combos)
Options under $100:
- Skagen Anita, Rose Gold Tone (rose gold-tone mesh band, rose gold-tone face)
- Skagen Anita, Stainless Steel (stainless steel mesh band, white face)
- Daniel Wellington Sheffield (black leather band, white face)
- Daniel Wellington York (brown leather band, white face)
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.
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. It’s cheapest on Amazon, of course, but if you order it from Episcopal Bookstore, you’ll be supporting a small business with great customer service AND they’ll engrave the recipient’s name on it in gold for just $13. 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 Designs, 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
- Tree of Life
- 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 black leather tote big enough to hold a laptop and a prayer book. Some nice choices (all under $200, some under $100) include:
- Lucky Brand: Carmen or April
- Fossil: Rachel, Sydney or Emma
- Coach: Derby, City or Ava
- Cole Haan: Beckett or Benson
- Calvin Klein: Key Item or Reversibles Pebble
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!