Those who have been called to ordained ministry have had to walk an often difficult and frustrating road. Sometimes this journey takes years as it did in my case. I remember well my “discernment weekend” in 2003 at the Cenacle on Fullerton in downtown Chicago. On that weekend, a team of clergy and laity from the Diocese of Chicago had assembled to listen to those of us who believed we had a call to ordained ministry and to evaluate us. In fact, at the orientation for the weekend, the leader of the Diocesan team told us, “It is our job to keep you from getting ordained. You have to convince us why you should be.”
This is a common experience for many who go through discernment. We feel the call so strongly, but we seem to meet human resistance at every turn. Yet this is by design, for those who feel the call most strongly must have their call tested so that they may be tempered lest they fall victim to zealotry. As it was explained to me, “God may call, but the Church must call as well: wait patiently upon the Lord.”
For Deacon Lathrop, that journey is finally coming to an end. On December 15, she will be ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is hard to describe the feeling of finally having reached a destination that takes years, For when the hands of the Bishop are laid upon your head and the words, “Make him (her) a priest in your Church” are spoken, you are forever changed. This is what is known as an ontological change, a change to the very nature of your being. Not only are you authorized by the Church to perform the sacraments, through ordination, you are given the spiritual gifts necessary to validly celebrate them: blessing, pronouncing absolution, and most importantly, celebrating the Holy Eucharist.
Celebrating the Holy Eucharist is the most visible change in moving from being a transitional deacon to becoming a priest. The first time that the newly ordained priest stands at the Altar to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, they have a profound sense of the trust that has been placed in them and the need for continual grace to live into that trust, for they stand with one foot in each world: the physical and the spiritual. And no matter how many years you have heard the words of consecration said or even practiced saying them yourself, the first time you do it for real as a priest will stay with you forever.
This is the heart of what being a Curate is all about: experimenting, learning, and finding your voice as a new priest under the supervision of an experienced priest and in the safety of a congregation that loves you, cares for you, and gives you the room you need to grow in knowledge, confidence and experience.
When Lathrop stands behind the Altar for the first time, you will notice that she will do some things differently than I do them. Apart from a few specific instructions in the Book of Common Prayer called rubrics (and printed in red in the Altar Missal), the manner of celebrating the Holy Eucharist varies widely. Each priest’s manner of celebrating the Eucharist (called the manual acts) reflect that priest’s particular background, training, and theology. Some priests are more “high church” or Anglo-Catholic in practice, some are more “low church” or evangelical, and there is a lot of room between them. As long as the rubrics are followed, the Book of Common Prayer allows for such variety as a form of liturgical and theological comprehensiveness. When Lathrop celebrates, I will act as deacon. When I celebrate, she will act as deacon. But apart from the difference in our parish roles as Rector and Curate, we will be brother and sister priests in one Sacred Order.
For those of you who would like to attend her ordination, please park in the green circle to leave room for guests to park in more obvious spaces. Also, I would like to ask the people of St. James to use the overflow seating in the foyer first before sitting in the nave. There are two others being ordained from two other churches which are also invited to attend, and I would like to welcome our guests first into our beautiful nave. The service will also be livestreamed on St. James’ YouTube channel.
Thank you for being a congregation that is a blessing to serve!