Thursday, January 06, 2011

"God willing and the people consenting ..."

Those are the words that begin the invitation to the ordinations to the priesthood next Saturday -- January 9th -- of five new presbyters-in-the-Church-of-God here in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

I was honored to be asked to help facilitate their pre-ordination retreat and so I'm presently ensconced at our Cathedral Center Retreat Center overlooking Echo Park in the middle of that two day time of reflection, prayer and community.

In preparation for our time together, I sent out this email to a cross section of folks snagged from my email contact list:
You are getting this email because you are on my list of those whose leadership has inspired and encouraged me one-way-or-the-other throughout my ministry. (And no, this is neither a fundraising pitch nor a chain letter.)

Rather is it an invitation to help me – and the Diocese of Los Angeles – as we prepare five transitional deacons to become “Presbyters in the Church of God” next Saturday at St. John’s pro-Cathedral.

I’ve been asked by +Jon to lead the retreat for the ordinands … which begins with supper tomorrow and goes through lunch on Friday … and as I was working today on some thoughts and meditations to offer I found myself calling on the wisdom I’ve learned from so many of you through the years.

And it occurred to me to write this evening and ask you to consider sending me a note (to this email address) with whatever thought or advice or quote or poem or prayer you might have to offer those embarking on the adventure of priesthood in the Episcopal Church in “the new normal” of 2011. I would love to be able to share some of your wisdom – or encouragement or challenge – with our ordinands during our time together this week. When we ordain them on Saturday they will be ordained to the “whole” church … and I love the idea of inviting some of the “whole church” to have a little part in both that preparation and celebration.
I was blown away by the response. Almost everybody I emailed responded ... some with a sentence or a few bullet points. Some with a poem or a prayer. Some with an anecdote about their ordination or ministry. Others with words of advice for clergy from their perspective as members of the laity.

We've been reading through them together as part of our retreat time. The emails have been printed out and folded up and are being drawn out one by one from the basket in the center of the retreat house table -- read out loud by one of the ordinands -- and then we sit with each epistle for a bit before reflecting or moving on to the next.

It occurred to me as I watched and listened to the holy process of hearing and receiving the wisdom of the words offered from this great cloud of witnesses around the church that we were in a small way incarnating that versicle from the prayers of the people ... the one about "those whose lives are closely linked with ours."

The link may be a digital one. And for the ordinands being moved and fed and challenged by the words being offered as wisdom from the wider church these are lives closely linked with theirs through somebody else's contact list. But linked we are. And fed we are. And stretched and encouraged and challenged we are. And while I've been writing this blog, three more emails came in ... so I'm going to trot down the hall and get somebody to print them out for me so I can add them to our basket for tomorrow morning.

When I have a little more time I'd love to sift through and give you all a taste of what we've been receiving here ... in the Julian of Norwich room at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in the Diocese of Los Angeles. But for now, here's just one ... "a letter to the ordinands for you to do whatever you want to with" ... from Dr. Bonnie Anderson (AKA President of the House of Deputies:)

Peace and congratulations to you as you prepare for ordination as a Presbyter in God’s Church. You have been called and the Church has affirmed your call. Your baptismal ministry will continue, but in a new way.

As you embrace this new ministry, with God’s help, you will continue to be challenged to live a life of spiritual leadership. After all, that is what this is about, isn’t it? Spiritual leadership is a foundational element of our baptismal ministry and it is truly an art form.

I have been told that one of my “strong suits” is giving unsolicited advice. So here is my advice to you about spiritual leadership:

Get wrapped up in the power of the Christian Community of which you are a part.

Lift up other people – you will have a new capacity to do that, as many people give their power for ministry away to you because you are “ordained”. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Let God take you seriously. Give your power back to your community, watch for and affirm the gifts of the people of the community, enable their ministry and truly love them. Like love, when you enable the power of others it comes back to you and everyone is stronger together to do God’s work. This is harder than it sounds.

Ann Patchet in her book, “What Now?” writes that spiritual leadership is “a little bit like a garden snake swallowing a chicken egg. It’s in you, but it takes a while to digest”. Don’t give up on this idea. Keep on lifting up others and sharing your power for a long time, and keep asking God to help. Being a priest can be seductive.

Spiritual practice is the foundation of spiritual leadership.

The late Rabbi Ed Friedman used to tell faith communities that he worked with “primarily they were paying him to work on his relationship with God.” You can lift up other people if you are sure of your own strengths, and if your life is ordered around scripture and the holy practice of watching for how God is acting in your life. Tend to yourself. In short, “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”.

Live into your “human-ness.”

Like all the baptized, your authority to serve God comes from God. We are vulnerable creatures and it is within that vulnerability we develop true relationship and love. We have been given a mysterious mix of vulnerability and authority. We are called to live in that tension with others. Share your insights, make mistakes, fail and succeed. It’s all part of embracing a life in Christian community. The model for the tension between vulnerability and authority is Jesus on the cross. That’s the picture to keep in your mind’s eye.

I have never felt called to a sacramental ministry. I am thankful that you have been called. I hope I can receive the Eucharist from you someday.

Bonnie Anderson,

And let the people say, AMEN!

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