Another year come and gone

Today is March 25, 2014. In the calendar of my church and many others, this is the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the story of the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, telling her that she would bear the Son of God. It’s 9 months before Christmas, hence the date. At one time, Europe observed the day as New Year’s Day: e.g., March 24, 1213 was followed by March 24, 1214. In traditions that emphasize her, it’s a day of special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

annunciationIt’s a special anniversary for me. Twenty-six years ago, on a Friday evening at All Saints’ Cathedral, Edmonton, two colleagues and I were ordained to the priesthood. It was an eventful weekend. The very next day the Synod of the Diocese of Edmonton met to elect a bishop — Ken Genge, who retired in 1996. Sunday was Palm Sunday, a big day in church life in any year, and the occasion of my first celebration of the Holy Eucharist. On Monday, I celebrated my first Requiem Eucharist, a service delayed by a week so that I could preside at the kind of rite that the deceased had requested.

I remember much of that weekend with almost startling clarity. Other events in my years in ordained ministry may have faded into the muddled mists of my memory, but not those four days. Something special happened then. All these years later, I believe I can honestly say that my ministry bore fruit, sometimes in the way I had hoped — and sometimes God surprised me! There are things I regret, of course. (Can anyone truthfully say that all we have done was to the good?) Nonetheless, the tumult of those days in March 1988 stands for me as a sign of what the rest of my ministry was to become: busy, committed, mostly fruitful, and always striving to be faithful to the promises I made that night.

Will you respect and be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of your bishop?

Will you be diligent in the reading and study of the holy scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ?

Will you endeavour so to minister the word of God and the sacraments of the new covenant, that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received?

Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, labouring together with them and with your fellow ministers to build up the family of God?

Will you do your best to pattern your life (and that of your family) in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?

Will you persevere in prayer, both in public and in private, asking God’s grace, both for yourself and for others, and offering all your labours to God, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit?

Today I recall those promises, reviewed so many times in the succeeding years, and give thanks that God has given me the grace to keep them to the best of my ability. At times it was very hard — and those are the times I recall as giving the greatest growth. As I reflect on this day, I find in it a deep connection of Mary’s call to a unique ministry to my own call to ministry. I am also reminded that ministry is grounded in human life, as Mary’s ministry was grounded in the totally human activity of giving birth to Jesus — the Word made Flesh.

Thanks be to God!

Both Fish and Fowl

After four Sundays taking services at St. George’s, Devon, I will be back to the choir at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (HTAC, for short) this weekend. I really enjoyed doing the services, but I also missed being part of the HTAC community for those weeks. The folks at Devon were kind enough to say they wished I could stay, but other arrangements have been made, and I really want to be able to worship with my wife during Advent and Christmas.

Will I take another such assignment? Very likely, if it is feasible. We shall see what the future brings.

Last Thursday I attended a diocesan clergy day, led by the Rev. Dr. Eric Law, founder of the Kaleidoscope Institute. For the most part I enjoyed the presentation, but I came away from the day feeling a bit down and anxious. That may have been partly because I was dog-tired, but there had to be something else. After a few days’ reflection, I have come to the realization that events like this used to stimulate me because I was always looking for something to take home to my parish — and I no longer have that focus. Future ministry in the Diocese may give an outlet, God willing.

While in parish ministry, I was constantly looking for ways to improve things. I am an incurable reviser, never fully satisfied with a piece of work. That’s how things get better, I do believe. Learn from your failures and shortcomings — it’s the best school going! [check this out!] I would do (e.g.) an Advent Lessons and Carols service one year, and then ask myself “how could it have gone better?” If I had received the material from Eric’s presentation two years ago, I know that it would have shown up in some way in my ministry.

So what do I do with it now? In my current situation, it’s an interesting concept, but of no immediate utility. Time was, that would not have bothered me. Much of my early educational career was taken up with studying pure mathematics, which is subject to the same assessment. But more recently… let’s just say I found the need to focus myself on my part in God’s mission, and I have tended therefore to study things which seemed to be leading somewhere practical.

The other thing that happened last week was that I didn’t go the parish conference at HTAC, also led by Eric Law. It would have been interesting, I’m sure, but I was very much of two minds about attending. When we first started there, most folks accepted me just as another body in the pews, but as I have met more people, and they have found out I am ordained, I have sensed them responding to me differently. To be sure, that may be from my wearing a clergy shirt when I came to pick up J. from HTAC. Nonetheless, it has made me conscious of being in a liminal state: neither fully one thing nor the other, but on the threshold.

Am I a person in the pew, or am I clergy? Or is it both/and?
Am I …

Neither Fish nor fowl?
Or
Both Fish and fowl?

Stay tuned.

Coming from… where?

Being retired begs the question: what did you retire from?

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I could just post my Curriculum Vitae, which lists every major piece of work I’ve done since childhood. I compiled it in this format for a specific purpose, now long past. But there it sits on my hard drive, a reminder to me of where I have come from and what I have done. I never expect to need to print it again.

CV’s are nuts and bolt documents. They tell a story in institutional/organizational terms, but they don’t really tell you who the person is, what he or she is really all about. Just stating a title and length of tenure doesn’t really tell anything about the work and the worker.

I was a parish priest for twenty-six years, a life which was at times both

heartbreaking and joyous,
frustrating and fulfilling,
dully routine and surprise-filled,
mundane and deeply spiritual.

My last 10 1/2 years were spent in Brandon MB, where I served as Rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral and Dean of the Diocese of Brandon. It was a very challenging position for all sorts of reasons. My previous 15 years in two parishes and a variety of diocesan roles in the Diocese of Edmonton were in some ways excellent preparation, and in other ways no preparation at all. It took several years to get the previous situation out of my head, and truly to be in a position where I could accomplish something.

That should tell me something now: it’s very hard, if not impossible, to just “drop everything” and be and do something completely different. (Aside — makes me think of Monty Python…)  The presbyterate (to use a better and more ancient term for the priesthood), if taken with appropriate seriousness, is an all-or-nothing proposition for an individual. For all those years, my life was consumed with following the call that first came to me in my teen years, and was later renewed in my thirties. The expression of the call and how I followed it changed, sometimes almost daily, but the central fact of my life was my ordination and the institutional, liturgical, administrative, educational and pastoral roles and tasks that came to me.

Life is different now. I have time to read, to sit and listen to music, do crossword puzzles, go shopping when the stores aren’t busy. And the phone isn’t ringing. We are in a new home in a different city (back in Edmonton), and are just starting to reconnect with people, and to make new friends.

The past is past. Let it be.