17 years ago I was on my face, prostrate before the altar, at St. John in the Wilderness, Denver, awaiting the bishop’s hands to be placed on my head to make me a deacon in the Episcopal Church. Many moons later a friend & former parishioner invited me to preach at his ordination to the priesthood. My prayer is to more deeply live into the ideal which I presented to him them. Here’s the introduction to my remarks:
A few minutes ago, I rose to present a man for ordination to the Priesthood. I’d like to clarify for a moment please that we’re not making a “minister” today. That was done, the Church teaches, when N. was baptized. Tonight we set N. apart from the other ministers of Christ. Tonight we cull this one from the herd and mark him in a new way; we separate him and raise him up to be one who, on behalf of the Church, will preach, declare forgiveness, pronounce God’s blessing, baptize, and celebrate the mysteries. Let me first share two conversations with you.
I was discussing my trip and tonight’s responsibility with my former secretary a few weeks ago. Last week she asked me when I was going to Houston to give the Eulogy. I laughed and laughed and told her I was going to pass that on.
And this morning I asked my children what they would say to a newly ordained person. My son said, “Don’t forget you have a life.” My daughter said, “I would tell him ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return;’ and then I’d tell him, ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’” I should sit down right now!
N… You have answered a call from God and His people. This is important since it speaks to the proper attitude of the Church’s priests, viz. one of humility. You asked me to say something about humility. Many think that Humility is about being humble. Priests are to be humble. But rather than think this means being some sort of Christian doormat, I prefer to remember that humble comes from an understanding of “lowliness” which came from the sense of on the ground — from humus which means “earth.” So rather than speak of priests being employees or “hired servants,” or chaplains to families or institutions, we’re talking about being what God intended for you to be. If God has intended for you to be a priest, then sometimes your humility will mean that you will need to say to someone, “continue doing that and you will die.” Or you may need to excommunicate someone for the good of their soul and the preservation of the Body of Christ. That takes absolute humility rather than arrogance. Remember the story of Abba Poemen?
In that sense of humility, I offer several images which have been helpful in understanding ordained ministry. For more than 25 years now—10 lay and 15 ordained—I’m constantly reminded of the centrality of four issues: identity, community, practice, and growth.