On Saturday I am going to be ordained priest at Ripon Cathedral, and I’m writing this at my ordination retreat at Mirfield. It has been a bit odd trying to explain to people that I’m being ordained again, but that’s the way we roll in the Church of England. This time last year I was preparing to be ordained “Deacon”, and this time around it’s “Priest”, or “Presbyter”.
It is rooted in the threefold historic orders of ministry – Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, with (if you’ll excuse the gross oversimplification) the Bishop particularly being about oversight, pastoring the pastors; Priest being a shepherd of God’s people, and holding the body (i.e. the church) together; and Deacon being servant-hood and looking outside the church, both in terms of sending out and bringing in. I would add an implicit fourth order of ministry of everyone else in the church, who actually get on with the business of God’s mission to a hurting and broken world. The idea is that these orders are cumulative, in the sense that as a Deacon I didn’t stop being an agent of God’s love and mercy to the world, and when I become Priest I won’t stop being a servant, and when I become Bishop… hang on, might be getting ahead of myself there. 🙂
To be honest, I hold the orders of ministry fairly lightly. I’d not really come across the term “Deacon” before I started exploring ordination, and certainly couldn’t have told you what the diaconal ministry is – and I’ve been in the Church of England all my life! I know that some people do feel a distinctive call to the particular ministry of a Deacon; I personally have always felt drawn to the “priestly” ministry. I do think ordained ministry is helpful in terms of how we organise ourselves, and set apart/commission certain people to take up certain roles and give them the authority and training so to do. This actually happens all over the place in our society – police, politicians, teachers, refuse collectors, the list goes on. I wouldn’t say that ordination is exactly like this. It’s more about “being” than “doing”; Something you are, rather than something you do.
It is only right to note that many in the Church have a much stronger view of ordination, and the priesthood in particular. And don’t get me wrong – it is a huge privilege, and I’m humbled and awed to be leading Holy Communion for the first time on Sunday. But I don’t claim to really understand ordination, or have an answer to the question of “why” I should be ordained. But I do believe that God has called me to this particular ministry, and I’m trying to be obedient to His call.
On the drive over yesterday I was listening to Radio 4, and the book “The Crossway” by Guy Stagg is being serialised. One line from the passage being read really resonated with me. The book is about a literal pilgrimage, but I reckon that faith is captured beautifully in his description of pilgrimage as:
“Setting off in the hope that the journey would make sense by the time you arrived.”