Monday, April 07, 2008

Proclaim, Fashion, Love, Serve, Care, Preach, Declare Forgiveness, Bless, Baptize, Celebrate, Nourish, Strengthen, Believe, Called.

As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you. In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. My brother, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to this priesthood? (Book of Common Prayer Page 531)

The Title of this reflection are the action-words from the “Examination” portion of the Ordination Service as prescribed in the Book Of Common Prayer, just before a Bishop lays hands on a deacon making him or her a priest.

Twenty-three years ago today I was ordained to the priesthood by The Rt. Rev. Robert Poland Atkinson in Trinity Church Parkersburg, West Virginia. I remember well the day. I had borrowed a chasuble made for the Institution of The Rev. Jim Bradley as Rector of St. Paul’s Church New Haven, CT (my seminary field placement) by Gretchen Wolf Pritchard (of Sunday Paper fame). Jim was the preacher and gave a sermon I remember to this day---or at least one part of it. He said that an architect friend had told him that his job was to create space for people to live and grow in. To design a space for human beings to live, learn, work and play in. To create enough boundaries to make people feel safe, and to create enough open and creative space to facilitate people becoming who/what they were called to become. I thought that was an apt description of priesthood at the time and still do.

Today is my ordination anniversary (thank you Louie Crew for reminding me first thing this morning with a kind note) I know that I have become a priest in my soul. It happened slowly almost imperceptibly over time, but I cannot disengage being a priest from my personhood. Its who I have become fully. Not that I have arrived in any sense of the word, but I know who I am in the matter of the daily living out of my life. It enters into every decision (good and bad) that I make. It needles me at times when I am not living up to my understanding of who I am in this matter. "It" causes me to take risks which the world would not require me to take. I know that I use a different language to create and describe my life.

It has sometimes caused me great pain working in the Church. It has given me my greatest joys. Its difficult work at times. And other times I don’t notice the difficulty. After serving on the local Commission on Ministry for six years, and presently serving on the Standing Committee of my diocese, I have seen many ‘aspirants’ for Holy Orders and joined with them in their discernment. There is a quality I look for in the way they speak of their lives. Its often an intuition I have and sometimes hard to express. That quality is perhaps a willingness to not know the answers. To leave some things up to our often mysterious God. To have that dose of mysticism which confounds, confuses, makes us let go of the steering wheel for a few moments and be at the disposal of the Holy. To have a non-anxious understanding and articulation of their own wounds and how those wounds can help them tell stories about a God who loves and heals.

To create the space which makes people feel safe, yet challenges them is often a tall order. In the current American religious environment is maybe extra difficult (see earlier reflection on Pew Trust report “Sea of Vagueness” in this blog). Yet it is truly my vocation now, not something I dabble in during working hours, but possesses me in many different ways during my non-working hours. Its probably what they mean when they speak of “formation”. I can’t imagine being or doing anything else.
[Caveat Emptor --- The phrase in the above charge from the Ordination Rite "..and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you." will get you every time!]


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