Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ordination Day

Epiphany – the feast day celebrating the revelation of God to all of humanity through the person of God’s Son Jesus Christ. What a glorious day for an ordination! At the ordination to the priesthood, the ordinand is charged by his or her bishop to “proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ” to all people, declaring to them God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. The ordinand similarly vows to “nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God.” In our meeting with Bishop Bruno during our pre-ordination retreat, he told us about one of his favorite icons, an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary entitled the Theotokos (“God-bearer”). He talked about this as an image of what it means to be priest – to be the God-bearer to all those whom we serve. In a follow-up discussion, our retreat leader quoted from William Countryman, who explains that the function of priest is to point the way to the holy that is already in our midst – to help people see the holy in their lives and within themselves. By being God-bearers, by discerning and pointing the way to the holy in our midst, we are called to facilitate the on-going Epiphany of God to humanity. You couldn’t ask for a more symbolic and meaningful day to be granted the awesome privilege and responsibility of being priest than on this day.

The actual ordination day was nothing short of awe-inspiring and awe-filled. All through the pre-ordination retreat, I had many mixed feelings – anxiety, nervousness, questions as to whether I was truly ready and able to undertake such an awesome role. Those feelings and the accompanying knots in my stomach continued throughout the morning. But then, about 9:45, as we were beginning to line up for the procession into the church, I was filled with an incredible sense of peace. All my anxiety, all my questions, subsided. I knew I was ready to walk into that place, to kneel before my Bishop and have him lay his hands on my to invoke the grace and power of the Holy Spirit that would make me a priest in God’s Church. With that sense of calm, that sense of assurance that could only have been a gift from the Holy Spirit, I was able to confidently walk into the church to the processional hymn “St. Patrick’s Breastpate” (“I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity”), which happens to be one of my favorites.

The whole service was incredibly mystical and miraculous and transforming. There are way to many details to cover in this entry. But there were four definite highlights for me. The first was the sermon (see sermon text), given by the Right Reverend Michael Ingham, the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada). Bishop Ingham talked about the meaning of Epiphany and the meaning of being a priest. It was undoubtedly one of the best sermons I have ever heard. The second highlight was when I knelt before Bishop Bruno and he placed his massive hands firmly on my head while invoking the Holy Spirit. I wish I could remember Jon’s exact words, as he used unique biddings for each ordinand, biddings specifically related to the gifts and talents of the individual. All I specifically remember was reference to my gifts and passions for kindness, honesty, and equality. The third highlight was having the Bishop anoint my hands with oil, making them “holy hands.” What an awesome act – to realize that now my hands are now holy, and that I am charged with using those hands solely for the work of God. And the fourth highlight was the vesting in stole and chasuble, which was done by three of my seminary classmates who came for the event – the Rev. Michelle Bolt (deacon, Diocese of California), the Rev. Moki Hino (priest, Diocese of Hawaii), and the Rev. Shana Price McCauley (priest, Diocese of California), and. I was incredibly moved that classmates would travel all the way to LA for this event, and even more moved that they were the ones to vest me in the symbols of my priesthood.

Following the ordination service, as is customary, the newly ordained priests were available to give blessings to anyone who wished to receive them. I was privileged to provide blessings and prayers of thanksgiving for several bishops, a number of colleagues, parishioners, and friends. Each individual blessing was powerful in its own unique way, just as the people I blessed are unique gifts in my life. I realized, as each one thanked me for my blessing, that I was just as, if not more, grateful to them for allowing me the privilege of granting a blessing. It was a very moving and powerful experience for me.

As I was finishing my blessings, I was approached by a homeless man who wanted prayers and a blessing. He was incredibly disheveled and wreaked of alcohol. At first, I felt like I did not want to have anything to do with him. He was getting in the way of me enjoying “my day,” taking me away from spending time with friends. And then, all of a sudden I was blessed with a lesson from the Holy Spirit. I realized that the Bishop had just ordained me as priest, with holy hands to help with the hurts of the world. And here was someone who really needed healing, prayers, and blessing – someone that others merely look at and walk past. I was moved to stand there and listen to his story – a story of much pain, a story of illness and addiction, a story of self-loathing for ever having taken a drink of alcohol. I listed as he poured out his soul to me. After he was finished, I offered a prayer for healing, for him to know God’s love and to be strengthened by that love, and blessed him as a beloved child of God. In talking with Moki later in the day, he said I had learned a valuable lesson as to what it means to be a priest, that I had lived into that calling in the simple act of listening to that man and taking time with him when no one else would. As Moki said, for all we know he may have been Christ in an unlikely form. Maybe, maybe not. I will never know, but I do know that man gave me an incredible and priceless ordination gift – the understanding of what it means to be a priest and a brief glimpse at the true meaning of the vows I had taken only an hour before. For me, he made those vows more than just mere words – he embodied them, and in so doing, helped me to embody them.

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