I cannot help but share some musings on this coming Pentecost Sunday when I will be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church (priesthood in late fall). This has been a long journey, some 25 years! But I would not have traded it for anything. Because through all the seasons of faithful and at times painful obedience, of death and newness of life, I have grown a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ – oh happy fault. It is this intimate faith relationship that has helped me say ‘YES’ to God over and over again:
[Our] ‘yes’ to life may initially be a passive ‘yes’, born of lassitude and of regrets, but it can eventually become a ‘yes’ of openness, of acceptance, a ‘yes’ of joy. This ‘yes’ to life, which springs from the deepest part of us, is not a naïve or idealistic ‘yes’’; it is not saying yes to a dream or illusion. It is a ‘yes’ to our deepest self, a ‘yes’ to our past, to our body, to our family, a ‘yes’ to our inner storms, our winters, our pain; a ‘yes’ also to the beauty of life, to sunshine, to fresh air, to running water, to children’s faces, to the song of birds. It is the ‘yes, to our destiny and our growth. It is the ‘yes’ to our own true beauty, even if, at certain times, we cannot see it. ~ Jean Vanier
It is mightily unsettling for a faithful Roman Catholic woman to encounter a deep intimate call to preaching and to priestly ministry. For a long time I made heroic efforts to talk myself out of it, dancing circles around it in persistent and creative ways – lay ministry is a valid contribution to the church (I still believe that), I had simply been among the Lutherans (and Anglicans) too long for my own good, I was not at the seminary for political reasons (e.g. advancing the cause for women’s ordination in the RC church) but to obtain a post-graduate degree in Pastoral Counselling etc. etc. Every lame explanation concealed my heart’s cry, echoing Jeremiah: do not call me, O God, I am only a Roman Catholic woman. Believe it or not, but for too long I placed ecclesial belonging before God’s will, even though fullness of life lie waiting in the embracing of the priestly vocation.
No surprise then that none of my escape efforts, or the labels I attempted to give my inner experience, or the feedback from the faith community, or the response I tried to give God, succeeded in fulfilling the desire inside; in spite of that I soldiered on claiming a “call within a call,” i.e. to live an ordained calling/reality in a non-ordained capacity in the RC church for prophetic reasons; it was noble and took courage grounded in prayer.
A dozen years ago I stepped back from my RC involvements to enter an intense love affair with the Anglican tradition, in the hope of finding a new church home and to fulfill my calling. However, while the call to ordained ministry enjoyed strong affirmation, the denominational transition did not. In my heart of hearts I simply could not transfer with the integrity both the Anglican tradition and myself deserved. So after a 1 ½ year discernment period I re-entered RC professional ministry, hoping against all hope that there was more that God needed me to live as a Roman Catholic woman in ministry, however challenging that would be. But God indeed is faithful. Sure enough, there was more …
Yet even in the six years of rewarding pastoral ministry in a large RC parish, ecumenical engagement remained my primary nourishing and affirming faith community. I contended myself with a wide range of ministry opportunities from preaching in Protestant churches to offering retreats at a RC retreat center. And I enjoyed some extremely respectful and supportive friendships with Catholic priests and bishops with whom I worked well and could share details of my inner priestly landscape.
Despite a wide range of ministry opportunities, which afforded much joy and satisfaction, the priestly nature of the call continued to assert itself. Consciously grounding my ministry in the priestly charism, a charism which grew stubbornly in my heart in near-desert conditions, directly increased my capacity to love all people, to serve all people, to offer wise, patient and compassionate counsel to those in need. I derived a deep and abiding joy from my ministry which, while not sacramental in the traditional sense, nevertheless provided profound sacramental moments and dynamics.
The priestly charism served as a guiding light, providing rich soil for my personal prayer life; it provided the locus of meaning and purpose as I reflected on, prayed with and interpreted my ministerial experiences; finally, the faith community always managed to recognize, call forth and affirm the priestly nature of my being. I discovered the ontological nature of this sacred calling and that I could live it creatively even in a non-ordained capacity.
While settling into this reality as permanent, God was clearly not finished with me yet. A few years ago, I gladly accepted to lead worship and preach in my local Anglican parish (to which I remained very close since that first Anglican courtship) when its priest retired. My heart leaped for joy and lo and behold, the deep desire for ordination, to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments, once again rose to the surface like cream on fresh milk. Its perennial newness and depth, beauty and intensity caught me off guard, revealing a sweet authenticating power pressed from the many years of cross and resurrection this calling had challenged me to embrace.
Ten years had passed since that first Anglican love-affair; I was now in a different place spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, with a lot more pastoral and ecumenical experience under my belt. This time God and my own heart released me; I fell into an unreserved yes with such fullness and joy, the likes of which I had not tasted since I uttered the “yes” to my spouse some 38 years previously. The joy, peace and clarity moved in swiftly, communicating an unmistakable affirmation and blessing.
I am discovering that nothing is wasted for our God whose love and guidance is steadfast and reliable, provided we keep our hearts open and soft to God’s merciful touch. But a priestly calling is never intended for the person nor for personal holiness; it is instead intended to serve the faith community. I have been acutely aware of this constitutive aspect of my vocational experience, and thus suffered from the withholding of that ecclesial blessing despite the manifold surprising ministry opportunities I have enjoyed over those same years. So to now receive the much longed-for ecclesial recognition of this vocation is overwhelming beyond words.
Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for my new ecclesial home in the Anglican tradition while I continue to cherish deep affection and healthy relational ties with my Roman Catholic faith family, my ecclesial birth home. The Anglican tradition has ample room for my Catholic heart and for my Protestant leanings. The Anglican expression of Christian discipleship has gifts and challenges that I need in my spiritual walk at this time. At the same time, I come bearing gifts of my own along with a willingness to serve the Body of Christ in the Anglican church family as well as continue to give my best efforts to the quest for UNITY in this same Body of Christ, the church universal.
Finally, I am immensely grateful to our local ecumenical Women-in-Ministry group. This group of valiant women are faithful servants of Christ who serve in a variety of ministry roles across a wide denominational spectrum. Their friendship and support, their joyful witness and disarming capacity for mingling both sad and happy tears have been a source of soul-food, joy and inspiration to me. I am amazed that we are in our tenth year monthly lunches! Many friendships and professional partnerings have had their genesis in that small dining room at Queen’s House. And it doesn’t look like the lunches will cease anytime soon!
And so my soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.
For God has looked upon this lowly servant
and called me blessed.
(adapted, Luke 1:46-48)
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