Nine years ago today, God was willing (along with my Bishop!), the People consented, and I was ordained to the sacred order of priests in Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church (of the Episcopal variety). That moment, on a late autumn morning at Christ and St. Luke’s Church in Norfolk, Virginia was a culmination of years of effort (a.k.a.: discernment) — scores upon scores of meetings, residential academic/vocational training, letters, forms, reports, examinations and everything else that comprises the dizzying labyrinth commonly called “the ordination process”. By the time I was ordained, literally hundreds of people — laypersons, bishops, priests, deacons, faculty, family and friends across three parish churches, two dioceses and a seminary — had made the investment of time and energy (as well as significant amounts of money!) to see that event come to pass. To be ordained a priest isn’t simply to follow one’s own “career path”. Priesthood is a communal event. Priests are formed by the whole people of God for the service of the whole people of God in this amalgamation of the Baptized called “Church”.
Even though December 14, 2002 marked a particular point in this journey of priesthood, I was far from “done”. Ordination didn’t finalize anything, rather, that liturgical action set plenty of things in motion. For the past nine years I’ve been learning about what it means to live as a priest — to live the “ordered life” in the midst of a Christian denomination in transition and in a culture increasingly suspicious of “organized” religion. Much of what constitutes the vocation of priesthood cannot be taught in a classroom. The real lessons of priesthood are learned in the crucible of the ebbs and flows of life.
How am I “different” today from the newly-minted priest of nine years ago?
I’m probably still too quick to talk, but hopefully I’ve learned that I don’t need to fill every available silence with the sound of my voice. I love to laugh, but I am more aware than ever that my laughter cannot come at the expense of others. I know I can tend toward cynicism so I’m learning to temper this tendency with compassion. I am more certain these days that the “politics of Jesus” are edgier than the partisanship of Democrats or Republicans will ever be. I’m pretty sure most things around the parish aren’t matters of life and death (in spite of the way we often behave). I think I’m better able to live with my limitations of time and energy — even as I wrestle with the ever-present pangs of guilt about all the things “left undone” at the end of a day, a week, a month and a year. I’m learning to live with the awareness that, invariably, even when I don’t mean to do so, I disappoint, frustrate and anger people. I’m doing a little better at acknowledging the ways I disappoint, frustrate and anger folks and asking for their forgiveness. I hope I’m getting better at being less defensive. I’m still trying to curb my penchant for over-explaining things. I am better able to accept God’s timeline is eternity and I’m not even a bit player in the drama of salvation (while at the same time recognizing I’ve got to give my part in the drama my best shot). I’ve given up the search for the magic formula of church growth — instead, I’m searching my soul to be a more consistent follower of Jesus — for now, I think that will have to do.
And what now?
I’ve got some praying to do. I’ve got some reading to do. I’ve got some visiting to do. I’ve got some writing to do. I’ve got some preaching and teaching to do. I’ve got some thanking and some encouraging and some serving and some leading and some following to do. I’ve got some laughing and crying and loving and living to do. The tenth year of my life as a priest begins tomorrow…December 14, 2012 is right around the corner! (God willing, of course!)