Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On ordination

Last Saturday Bishop Victoria Matthews ordained four deacons as priests. Four very fine people with whom it is my privilege to have involvement through my role as Director of Education for the Diocese.

It is over thirty years since I was ordained a deacon and later this year it will be thirty years since I was ordained priest. Looking back to those years I am very grateful for a strong sense of the call of God, catalysed by an evening with a friend and colleague in a parish in Timaru, en route to my final year at Knox Theological Hall in 1986. (That friend was at the ordination on Saturday!) I am also grateful for my two ordination retreats, the first conducted by the late Robin Smith and the second by Hugh Paterson. Through those retreats a sense of the width of the Anglican church into which I was being ordained was engendered. Also, a sense of the adventure of being a clergyperson made it all seem exciting. (Am I allowed to say that?)

Funnily enough, my curacy, in the Parish of Shirley, was very exciting. (Yes, I know. I got married during that time, and that was exciting, but I am thinking of a series of amazing pastoral encounters). Not today, but another day, perhaps in an autobiography, I will write more. Suffice to say here that I had a series of pastoral encounters which I thought indicated what all parish pastoral work was like. Actually, I later discovered, not every parish is the same, and no parish since has been quite as exciting and interesting as Shirley was in those years.

Something which had nothing to do with the Parish of Shirley per se, but in which the character of that parish played a part, was an ongoing debate in the then Diocesan Ministry Committee to which I was appointed as a younger clergyperson. In essence the debate concerned whether ordination was functional or ontological.  Had I been ordained to fulfil a function in the life of the church? If so then I had been admitted to a particular order of ministry, certain functions to fulfil.

Or, was I a different kind of person in the church? Through ordination had God changed me? Not simply a change of status, Peter the layperson to Peter the clergyperson, but a change in some other way. I cannot now remember whether the ontologists among the committee defined that change but I suppose it was in the sense of being a person through whom God worked in certain ways, not least to effect change in the elements of bread and wine brought to the priest for consecration to become the body and blood of Christ. But I also recall some sense in which the ontological change was about Peter the person becoming Peter the pastor, especially equipped by God to bring God to people.

At the time I was a vigorous supported of functionality. Apart from my general evangelical commitments leaning that way, the Parish of Shirley was a low church, evangelical parish (still is!) and together in that parish we held that all were ministers of the gospel, all were filled and equipped by the Spirit and, frankly, why couldn't laypersons preside at the eucharist? (Recall, older members of the Diocese of Christchurch reading here, that the 1980s was a period when the Diocese seriously commissioned research into lay presidency).

Well, life has moved on. Perhaps I do not get out enough, but I do not hear people hereabouts talking about ontological v functional priesthood, nor do I hear calls for a new consideration of lay presidency. Nevertheless even if the question of ontology or functionality is not being discussed I do not think the question has gone away. I am sure, for instance, that it sat with us on Saturday as catholic, evangelical and moderate congregations of the Diocese came together.

What about my own views?

I think I would be less vigorously in favour of pure functionality against arguments for ontology. But not so much because I have become a partial let alone complete ontologist regarding ordination. More because I recognise the mysteries of God's workings. God is up to something in (all) people's lives, and some specific somethings are being worked out in those who are ordained, somethings which contribute to the life of the body of Christ.

Actually, I think what I am confident of is this: all ontological change in an ordained person is like salvific change in every believer. God graciously initiates his work in us, but we keep facing pivotal moments when we choose to "work out our salvation/ordination". The work of the Spirit in ordination can be quenched ... or allowed to flow into every part of our being.

1 comment:

Father Ron said...

Peter, what a graceful description of your ontological call into the priesthood of Christ and its culmination in the grace of Holy Orders!

My own call came over a much longer period, from its initial rejection in the Church of England (because I had not attended university); through another (temporary) call to the Religious Life with SSF; until the time when, in the midst of a successful career in the travel industry, I was once again called by God to become a priest.

I have no doubts about the ontology of the ministerial priesthood, having experienced the truth of the Scriptural injunction that: "Whom God calls; God equips".Thanks be to God:" All of this is not in any way to dismiss the essentiality of the 'priesthood of the Laity' - which is essential to the calling of each of us.

It is worth noting that the difference between the two calling - of Laity and Priests - was demonstrated at Saturday's ordination in our Cathedral; when the hands of the new priests were anointed with the Oil of Chrism - which is also the anointing authorized for us at our Baptism. This 'extra' anointing is an extension of the charism of Baptism in ministerial priesthood.