by the Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
This morning’s “teaching sermon” explores what those of us in “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement” believe and do in relation to the end of life and the rituals of burial.
I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it, but in this sermon series we’ve been making our way through the Book of Common Prayer: we looked at Baptism and Eucharist, the Church’s primary and central sacraments, and then at the sacramental rites – confirmation, marriage, ordination, confession and healing. In the Prayer Book, these additional services come in the order in which we’ve looked at them, grouped together as “Pastoral Offices”. (One exception is that ordination services come under “Episcopal Services”, since they require the ministry of a Bishop.)
The last of the pastoral offices, or ways in which the Church supports and ministers to its members through the transitions and challenges of life, are Ministration at the time of Death and the Burial Office.
Let’s start with acknowledging that death is a hard thing to think about and talk about, for a variety of reasons. We all to want to live as long as we can – our lives are, after all, a gift from God, to be cared for and preserved. It is painful to lose those we love, hard to face the ways in which aging involves the loss of capacity for all of us who manage to live into old age, and really hard to see the suffering that often accompanies serious illness - painful both for the sick person and for those who love them. Death is scary in that we just don’t really know what comes after. And some deaths are simply tragic, especially when death involves a young person who has not lived a full life, or if death is sudden and unexpected.
The reality of the many ways in which death is difficult exists in a tension with what our faith teaches us about it. As followers of Jesus, we believe that death is not the end of life, but is, rather, a transition to another part of life in which we return to God, entering into a larger life than we can know or imagine now. We believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us of this.
Secular culture has popularized images of a heavenly afterlife to a ridiculous degree. The Book of Revelation speaks about pearly gates and streets paved with gold (Rev. 21:21), but the ways in which this symbolic and mystical image has been taken literally and expanded – we’ve all heard plenty of jokes about Saint Peter as gatekeeper with clipboard in hand - are not biblical and definitely not helpful.
What scripture does promise us is that God’s love surrounds us even as we pass away out of this life, and that beyond life in this realm we are set free into a closer life with our God, with Love itself.
Here’s some of what scripture offers:
Jesus assured Martha of Bethany, at the time of her brother’s death, that “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever who believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-6)
Similarly, he assured the disciples, as he was preparing them for his own death, that “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)
Comfort is also found in Paul’s writings: he assures the Romans that “neither death nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:38-39), and in his wonderful dicussion Love, written to the Corinthians, Paul promises that “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then [we will see] face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (I Cor 13:12)
We believe these things, and yet, when death comes, we grieve. The Church, in its ministries, seeks to honor and balance both of these truths.
The Prayer Book actually offers a series of opportunities for prayer around the time of death. Ministration at the Time of Death (BCP 462-465), which is often referred to as Last Rites, is a brief service of prayers asking God to comfort the dying, to protect them from pain and evil, to pardon sin and grant them a “place of refreshment” and “give them joy and gladness”. It includes a brief litany to be prayed with loved ones who are present, as well as the Lord’s Prayer, and we anoint the person with the oil of chrism, the same scented oil that we use at baptism. The service includes what I think is one of the most beautiful prayers in our tradition, the prayer of commendation, which is also included in the burial service itself:
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your
servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen. (BCP p. 465)
Ministration at the time of death is a very precious, intimate, and privileged moment in ministry. The liturgy is ordinarily led by an ordained person, but it can also be offered by a lay person if a priest or deacon is not available. It is a tremendously powerful way to offer the concern of our hearts to God at the time of death. I have read it by myself when learning of a death I want to respond to but have not been present for, and have also read it together with family members who live far from a loved one who has passed away.
Following Ministration at the Time of Death in the Prayer Book are two additional short sets of prayers through which the Church can mark the processes of attending to death. “Prayers for a Vigil” (BCP 465-6) provides prayer for family and friends in the time between death and the funeral and, like Last Rites, expresses love and petition for God’s care for the one who has died. The Prayer Book also provides a brief liturgy for “Reception of the Body” (BCP 466-7), for use at the time the body is brought to the church.
In the Episcopal Church we now have a variety of funeral liturgies available. The Prayer Book offers two options for The Burial of the Dead – Rites I and II - and we also have an authorized alternative from the Enriching our Worship series; they all follow the same approximate format, but differ in the style of language. In a funeral service, hymns may or may not be sung, scripture is read, and prayers are offered both for the one who has died and for family and friends in their grief. The departed is often remembered with reminiscences by family members, and clergy may preach a homily. Holy Communion may be included. The service, if it is in in the church building, concludes with a Commendation of the individual to God’s care.
The final part of the service may follow directly after the first part of the burial rite, or it may be separated in time. During the Committal the body or ashes are placed in their permanent resting place – whether in the ground, at sea, in a columbarium, or otherwise – and again, prayers including the Lord’s Prayer are offered. It concludes with a dismissal based on the Easter affirmation:
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Funeral practices have changed in recent years, in large part because the pandemic has been a significant factor requiring families to adapt their expectations and their practices. For one thing, cremation has become much more accepted and commonplace, and it allows families to schedule services when it is convenient for those who need to travel. The limitations of safety protocols for indoor gatherings has resulted in many more families choosing graveside services, and those that Heather and I have presided over in the last couple of years have been lovely.
While restrictions on end-of-life rituals have made it difficult for some families to celebrate their loved ones as they might have wished, I think that the opening up of options has ultimately been a good thing. In comparison to other aspects of the Church’s life, our tradition allows broad leeway for personalizing the services that mark the end of a human life, and leeway is often called for as the individual needs, circumstances, and preferences of families can vary. As Heather and I work with families planning funerals, our focus is on helping the families move through and beyond their pain as they remember and celebrate the life of the one who has died.
I’m sure many of us have experienced the fact that the processes that follow death can be messy. While enduring a death can help us put things in perspective and bring out the best in us, deaths can also re-activate old family issues and conflicts. In our complex psyches, regrets, resentments and guilt can surface in unfortunate ways as we move through not only the religious rituals but also the other practical chores that accompany death, such as disposing of property. Whatever we can do to minimize the potential for additional hurt around times of death is something to strive for.
Which brings me to reflecting on implications for us here and now: (you know that Heather and I always try to offer things to think about and do as we leave our worship each week!) There ARE things we can do as we think about death.
It is not only a gift to those who love us but a personal responsibility for us to prepare for our own deaths, however little we may feel like doing so.
For one thing, it is really important to have a will that directs others in how we want our worldly assets used after our deaths. The process of making a will helps us to come to terms with our own mortality AND to think about what is important to us in the way we leave things behind. Making provision for distribution of our assets is not only an opportunity to provide for our families’ security, but also to be generous in charitable giving in the many places where there is need in the world.
Closely related to the importance of having a will is that of having advance health directives on record and having a health care proxy designated, a person who can make decisions for us if we are not able to express our wishes. Hopefully your health care provider has already had you complete these documents: if they haven’t, please take care of this soon.
I also urge each of us to do some funeral planning. It is not a morbid thing to do. It provides help to our family members who, after we pass away, will have plenty of things to take care of and decisions to make: providing them some guidance on how WE would like to be remembered in a funeral can make the process a little bit easier for them. Here at James and Andrew we have a form that reminds you of choices to be made for your funeral. You can take it home to think about, discuss it with your loved ones, and/or you can meet with one of us to talk about your wishes, and we can keep a copy of your completed form on file here for the day it is needed.
Our Faith Community Nurse, Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy, has also introduced us to a form called Five Wishes. It can be used as an official document that outlines what we would like the last stage of our life to look like. Kathryn tells me that she has numerous copies. I have completed it, and I commend it to you.
Taking care of these acts of planning is, in its way, an act of faith. It says that while we value our lives, we know that they will end, and we want to do what we can, now, to help end our lives responsibly and with love.
Amen. May it be so.
In today’s story from Luke’s gospel, Jesus travels into new territory to free a man from terrible demonic possession.
Together these two narratives invite us to think about what enslaves us, and about how we can be liberators.
So let’s start with Juneteenth.
On January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Contrary to popular assumption, the document did not abolish slavery throughout the nation – that would not happen until the 13th Amendment was signed two years later, in 1865.
The Emancipation Proclamation changed the legal status of about three and a half million enslaved African Americans in the Confederate states: the Proclamation declared them to be free. (At the time of the Proclamation’s signing, another half a million persons remained enslaved in the northern states where slavery was legal.)
After the Proclamation was signed, actual freedom for those who were enslaved only occurred when either folks managed to escape north into free states OR where the Union Army was able to assert authority as the war continued on for more than another two years.
Freedom was not only delayed for persons living under slavery because southern landowners refused to recognize the authority of the Union government, but in some cases, because the information was not even available.
Mail service to many regions was extremely slow, and some historians have suggested that slaveholders may well have withheld information about their freedom from their enslaved agricultural workers, in order to continue to benefit from their labors.1
The final territory to receive news of the war’s end and the liberation of the enslaved took place when Union soldiers under Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Some newly-freed people left the plantations to seek opportunity elsewhere or to reunite with family, while others remained in place to explore what a new relationship of employer and employee might look like.
Regardless, the date of June 19 took on great significance for the communities of descendants of those who had lived under slavery, and its importance has now been recognized by Congress as an opportunity for all of us to pause and remember our complex history, but particularly, to celebrate that freedom was, eventually, proclaimed to all.
And on to this morning’s story from Luke. It’s a dramatic story that goes by a fancy name – “the Gerasene demoniac”.
The place the incident happened was not Jesus’ usual stomping grounds. It was Gentile territory that Jesus had not visited before, but unexpectedly decided to visit by journeying across the Sea of Galilee.
Once on land, Jesus was encountered – you could even say “accosted” – by a man possessed by unclean spirits, a “legion” of them. (A military legion customarily has 6000 soldiers.) According to Jewish custom that Jesus and his disciples followed, the young man was not only a danger to himself and others – he had often been chained up by local authorities - but was religiously unclean.
He was so much tormented by the spirits controlling him that he no longer lived among the in the local town but rather dwelt, naked, among the dead in the tombs. Tombs are another place considered ritually unclean.
The unclean spirits, recognizing Jesus’ authority, begged to be released into a herd of swine grazing nearby, rather than be sent back to “the abyss” (where they would be imprisoned and subject to God’s authority). Jesus allowed the transfer, and the swine immediately rushed into the lake and drowned.
The townspeople were not happy about this turn of events; Luke says “they were afraid.” Rather than rejoicing that the young man had been healed, they wanted Jesus gone and asked him to leave. In the context of this Juneteenth commemoration, I can help but see them as being like the plantation masters who undoubtedly did not want the convenience and familiarity of THEIR economic system overturned. We like things to be to our advantage, and the introduction of Jesus’ authority was not welcome in the country of the Gerasenes.
The young man, the formerly enslaved, asked to join Jesus’ circle and travel with them, but Jesus instructed to remain in his land, giving witness to God’s power.
So here’s what I make of this story.
Firstly, God shows up where God is needed. Even – and maybe most especially – among the tombs of our lives, where we are stuck and alone and helpless.
Additionally, God seeks freedom for us – the freedom to live abundantly and without restraint, among others.
And lastly, the way things can happen, can change, when God is at work, can be scary, because we don’t like change. We can even resist freedom and healing, if they upset our familiar patterns.
Adopting Heather’s familiar homiletic strategy of finishing with question to consider during the week, here are the questions I suggest that we think about this week.
What enslaves us, and where are we afraid of change? Many things in our lives can hold us back: health, financial circumstance, and various obligations can restrict our choices, but also, it is psychological and emotional shackles that often prevent our stretching ourselves to live fuller, braver, more generous lives.
God is ready to show up to help us make changes, if we choose to let her do so.
And where, as followers of Jesus, are we called to be the liberators? Where can we be the General Grangers, bringing the word that things don’t have to be the way they have been?
Where can we lend a hand to make space in lives that have been restricted, to provide new options where options have been few?
May God’s Spirit guide our thinking and our acting.
1 “What is the history of Juneteenth?”, brittanica.com
By Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
One of the beauties of scripture is that its stories touch on the fundamental themes of our lives, inviting us to reflect on those themes, and as we return to the stories again and again, we are always bringing something new that speaks to and through the words of scripture.
Today we’ve heard a healing story from John’s gospel. Healing is a frequent motif in scripture, and healing was certainly a central part of Jesus’ ministry. The act of healing and the promise of healing are always going to be compelling for us because we are always aware of the need of healing in the world.
Most of the healing stories in the gospels, on their face, are about physical healing from bodily infirmities. The woundedness that feels most burdensome in the world today – to me at least – is more the psychological, emotional, and spiritual suffering, some of inherited and passed down throughout generations, that comes from the traumas of humans’ inhumanity to one another –
Perhaps what today’s gospel story offers us is the opportunity to think about what we know of healing.
It’s a story of Jesus healing of a disabled man at a sacred pool in Jerusalem. Beth-Zatha, at the Sheep Gate into the city, was known to have healing powers, and was a gathering place for those seeking to be made well. It was believed that angels would stir up the water of the pool, and that entry into the water after this agitation occurred would optimize the healing effects.
The man in today’s story - John doesn’t tell us exactly what was wrong with him – had been ill for 38 years. Because of his mobility issues, he told Jesus, when the waters were stirred up, he was never quite able to get to the pool before others got there ahead of him, absorbing the new infusion of healing power in the water before he could get there.
Jesus, knowing in the power of God, instructed the man to ”Stand up, take your mat and walk,” and he did so.
While the core truth, here, that God’s grace has the power to restore wellbeing is as important for us as it was for John’s hearers at the time his gospel was written, I find myself impatient with the simplicity of the gospels’ healing stories.
Healing never simple. For example, I wonder about what comes after the healing at Beth Zatha:
We need healing – restoration of wholeness and wellbeing - whenever we suffer injury, illness, trauma, or loss, and the suffering involved in any trauma is complicated, and healing is always a process. It always takes time; it always has many aspects.
Here is some of what we know about healing from the wise ones – both scientific and spiritual wise ones:
Am I safe?
There is a powerful truth in the images of the post-resurrection Jesus, who, even as he returns to comfort his disciples, still bears the wounds of crucifixion in his body.
So where do we find God, where do we find God’s love in the experience of healing, however complex, however drawn out?
So I don’t assume that man healed at the pool at Beth Zatha went home to live a simple happily-ever-after, but I do believe his life was opened by God’s healing Spirit, and that through that Spirit we can hope that he moved, with ups and downs, toward a life of generosity, compassion, and hope.
Much of my thinking about healing this week has been impacted by an online seminar (provided by the Diocese) that Di Kurkulonis and I took part in. The presenters were an elder from the Ute tribe in Whiterocks, Utah and the priest of his parish, together reflecting on how the traditions of native cultures might inform us about generous living.*
Elder Forrest and Father Michael set their remarks in the context of the trauma that has taken place for the Ute and other indigenous peoples of North America, as native communities were repeatedly forced off of the lands to which the people had been in relationship, as the dominant culture appropriated the land for ourselves and our own purposes. Despite these grievous injustices and the spiritual injury their community has suffered, the congregation Forrest and Michael described has done much healing.
In their presentation Forrest and Michael emphasized two practices that they recommend for promoting healing. Neither is surprising or new; both are worth mention.
The first is that of practicing gratitude. Paying attention to the small details of our lives and being thankful helps us to live in the present, and in appreciation that our lives are gifts from the Creator.
Forrest and Michael also spoke powerfully about the importance of direct experience of the natural world – the air, the water, the earth and our sibling plant and animal creatures through which we meet God. Let’s listen to this wisdom.
May the angels stir up the waters for us, and may we immerse ourselves and find the path of healing.
This month’s topic is ordination, the sacramental rite in which the Church lifts up leaders to assume particular responsibility in the community of the faithful. As Heather and I were divvying up teaching sermon topics, I got this one because I’m involved in this process at diocesan level: I participate in the admission of people into the ordination process, in mentoring those folks through their formation, and then certifying their qualifications when the time comes for ordination.
As we’ve usually done in these teaching sermons, this morning I’ll provide some historical background, and talk about what the process looks like today, including both the REALLY complicated sequence of things that take place in the selection and preparation of candidates for ordination and the things that happen in the rite itself. Finally and most interesting for me, I’ll reflect a bit on the theology of ordination and some of the issues involved.
I’m sure you’ll remember the apostle Paul’s discussion in his first letter to the Corinthians in which he develops the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ. Like the physical body, he says, the Church has many parts, and they each have their own unique and important function - it’s up to the eyes to see and the ears to hear: the body needs all of its parts and they all work together. (I Cor 12:4-27)
As the young Church grew rapidly in the days, months, and eventually years after Jesus’ ascension, it became obvious that the apostles couldn’t handle all of the leadership needs of the growing community on their own. An incident in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles ( Acts 6:1-6) tells about a group of Hellenists getting cranky because the widows were not getting served the meals they needed. Their complaint was obviously justified, because the apostles put their heads together and figured out that they needed to appoint a group who could take charge of that important ministry. The apostles selected candidates who had the gifts to do well at the job, prayed, laid their hands on those members, and called them deacons. Really, this is ordination in a nutshell – the Church identifying the people we believe have the gifts to serve in needed functions, laying hands on, and then setting them at their tasks.
By sometime in the second century, the Church established three orders of ordained ministry that have not changed in the centuries since. First, however, I remind us that, in the catechism found in the Prayer Book, the answer to the question “Who are the ministers of the Church?”, is that “the ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” (BCP 855) All of the baptized are the primary ministers of the Body of Christ in terms of sharing the gospel and doing God’s work of caring for one another and for all of God’s creation.
Here's a quick review of the three orders of ordained ministry:
How does the Church know who to ordain, and how does it come about? It takes BOTH a personal sense of vocation AND the conviction of the Church that the person has “a call” to ordained ministry. The traditional notion is that God calls people as leaders, and the Bible of full of stories of folks who get such calls, many of them, in the Bible, are ready to go to great lengths in order to avoid the responsibility. In our own time, we look to the judgement of the Church to hear and confirm a call to ordained ministry, trusting that the Holy Spirit works through the prayerful processes the Church has developed for selecting its leaders. Although the canons (or laws) of the Church set out some requirements, the process varies from diocese to diocese and is pretty complex.
There are basically two phases a person goes through before they are ordained:
1.) The first is that of an extended period of discernment of a vocation or call to Holy Orders. Here in Western Massachusetts we require that a person thinking about ordained ministry does lots of things including being active in practicing their faith life, engaging in individual conversation about vocation (for at least a year) and participating in another year of diocesan-led groups aimed at helping with deep exploration.
If, after completing these requirements, they believe they are called to ordained ministry, they apply for postulancy, which requires documents of support from their rector, vestry and others in addition to their own written discussion of their sense of vocation. After a group session and an individual meeting with the Bishop, they are invited to a day of conversations with the Commission on Ministry, a group of lay and clergy representatives who have read their application materials. Based on the Commission’s reading and their interviews with the applicant, the Commission makes a recommendation to the Bishop, either that they be admitted as a postulant, be asked to wait while doing additional discernment – what we call the “not now” outcome – or that they not move forward as a postulant. Before the Bishop appoints them to postulancy, the applicant needs to undergo background checks and a psychological evaluation (to insure that there are no previously undiscovered obstacles.)
2.) Once a person is admitted as a postulant, there is a lot of preparation for ministry to be completed. Candidates for vocational diaconate take part in a two-year School for Deacons, meeting regularly both virtually and in person with candidates throughout New England. Priesthood candidates complete a Master of Divinity degree at a seminary or Divinity School approved by the Bishop: (if done full-time, an MDiv takes three years, but many candidates complete the program on a part-time basis while continuing to work.) In either case the formation includes worship in community, academic coursework, and an internship in a parish different from their sponsoring parish. Candidates are also required to complete Clinical Pastoral Education, a program of supervised self-reflection as one practices pastoral care, frequently in an institutional setting. Four times a year throughout the formation process, postulants write “Ember Day Letters” to the Bishop providing a check-in on what they are doing and thinking about.
As their training approaches its completion, Postulants apply to become Candidates, a final step toward approval for ordination. They complete more interviews at both parish and diocesan level and are required to demonstrate proficiency in a set of areas required by national church: scripture, theology, ethics, history, worship, and the practice of ministry. Deacon candidates do this through submission of a portfolio of materials produced during their training, and priesthood candidates sit for a nationally-administered three-day essay exam.
Candidates who successfully complete these many requirements (which they invariably experience as hoops to jump through,) may be ordained.
The ordination liturgy itself is, in many ways, like the baptismal liturgy that we have all experienced many times. As in a baptism, the candidate is presented by those who have sponsored them and is examined by the bishop, making a series of promises. Listen to the key exchange that takes place at ordination of both priests and deacons:
The Bishop asks:
Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?
The ordinand replies:
I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church. (BCP 526)
Following this verbal exchange, the ordinand then SIGNS the declaration “in the sight of all present”. Somewhat later in the service, the ordinand reiterates their commitment to submit to the authority of the Bishop, promises to persevere in prayer and the reading of scripture, to be a faithful pastor to those they are called to serve and, perhaps most interestingly, to “pattern their [life] [and that of their family, or household or community] in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that [they] may be a wholesome example to [their] people”. (BCP 532) Heather and I puzzle over that one occasionally.
So it sounds good, doesn’t it, that the Church takes so very seriously the work of lifting up people to serve as leaders? As is always the case, there are issues – places where we have failed, places where there is disagreement and sometimes controversy.
For one thing, the Church has not always practiced a theology of full inclusiveness. The ordained ministers at the establishment of the Episcopal Church in the 18th century were exclusively white men. The first African American to be ordained a priest, Absolom Jones, was not admitted to holy orders until 1802, a full decade after he founded the first Black Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. John Johnson Enmegahbowh, Ojibwa Indian, was the first indigenous person to be ordained priest, in 1867.
During our own lifetimes two more barriers to full inclusion in the life of the Church have fallen, but are not yet fully accepted. The first women were “irregularly” ordained to the priesthood in 1974, and the Church voted to regularize and approve women’s ordination in 1976. Although the first openly queer individual, Ellen Barrett, was ordained in New York by Bishop Paul Moore in 1977, the action caused an uproar in the Church, causing the House of Bishops, several months later, to pass a resolution identifying “homosexuality as unbiblical”. The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 was likewise unacceptable to many in the Church.
A point of theological disagreement feeds what I regard as another serious issue in relation to the sacrament of ordination. Here’s the question: Does ordination represent a change in function for the ordained, or does the movement of the Holy Spirit in ordination convey an essential change in the being of the ordained? Are bishops, priests and deacons, as a result of their ordination, closer to God than lay people? Does ordination make them better people?
Clericalism is the assumption – to one degree or another, whether conscious or unconscious – that the clergy are different and somehow spiritually superior to lay people. The official teaching of the Church is that ordination signifies a change in responsibility in the Church and is assisted by God’s grace. Clericalism runs deep in Christian culture, however. I cannot tell you how many times people have apologized for using a naughty word in front of me, or asked me to “put in a word” (in prayer, I presume) for better weather.
These examples are basically silly, but the insidious effects of clericalism have been the assumption on the part of the clergy that they are invariably right and the non-ordained are wrong, and the subsequent difficulty the Church has historically had in holding clergy accountable where they commit wrongdoing. We are all familiar with some of the most damaging examples of clergy misconduct that have come to light in recent decades, both in other denominations and in our own. I deeply appreciate the comments of Pope Francis on this topic, in 2018:
Clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.
(Address to Synod Fathers, 2018; cited on Wikipedia, “clericalism”)
The assumption of moral rectitude in the ordained does not serve any of us well, either the clergy themselves or the Church. Let’s agree to do everything we can to end it.
Those are rather grim observations, aren’t they? I don’t want to end there, but these hard things needed acknowledging, and I have also tried your patience long enough.
For myself, ordained ministry has been an incredible gift and privilege, especially in the years that I have served in parish ministry. I am deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to serve and learn and grow in this work, and particularly in the good company of my colleague the Rector of James and Andrew.
One of the best prayers in the Prayer Book is prayed in the ordination service AS WELL AS in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, so it is appropriate to conclude with it here. Let us pray:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry
out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were being cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 527)
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