Since January of 2014, I have moved in and out of office spaces a number of times. After long periods of stability before that, I am still caught off guard sometimes, by what the movement churns up. I spent a bit of time earlier this week preparing to move some more things to my office at the Ascension and in the process, stumbled upon the copy of the bulletin we used for my ordination to the priesthood. I stopped for a few minutes to read it and realized it represents a poignant overlay to my days here and now.
On October 11th, during the principle service at the Ascension, there will be a Celebration of a New Ministry, where I will be formally recognized as the new associate rector. After I was ordained at All Saints, I moved into ministries at El Centro and then St Ambrose without this level of formal recognition and celebration, though I still use and treasure the stole I received from the congregation of St. Ambrose early in 2010. Clearing through my files on Dropbox, I also stopped and read the letter of resignation I presented to the Sr. Warden of St. Ambrose and to the Bishop of Southeast Florida in June of 2014. I gave it to the Archdeacon and the Sr. Warden during the liturgy for leave-taking we followed at the end my last service. It was a hard and sad letter to write, and a hard and sad morning when I presented it and said goodbye. The finality of the farewell lingered for many months. My anticipation of the celebration on the 11th is beyond joyful. Once again I am surprised by the amazing, transforming power of YES.
Looking through the bulletin of my ordination, I stopped and read the page that listed the participants in the service. While I read, I could hear the news Sherod was watching about the Pope’s visit here in the USA. The page is all marked up but even with the markings, it tells a story I am proud of. The Gospel was read in four languages—French, Portuguese, Spanish and English, the diversity and richness of cultures represented that night blows my mind now. Pastor John White, the Sr. Pastor at the largest AME church in Fort Lauderdale, was one of the readers. Father Alex Roque, a Roman Catholic Priest who also belongs to the Order of Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, read the Gospel in Spanish. I had worked with both to start BOLD Justice, a faith-based community organizing group in our county and we had become good friends.
When I asked Alex to participate in my ordination, I was careful to say that I understood that this might not be possible or something he would even be interested in. He could not have been more gracious—we discussed the reality that he could not receive communion but he was adamant about doing as much as he could during my ordination while staying faithful to his vows as an RC priest. I had not expected that he would, but when the Bishop invited the priests in attendance to come forward as I knelt for the laying on of hands, Alex joined John and the rest of the Episcopal priests who gathered around me.
It was what happened at the very end of the liturgy that still brings tears to my eyes. The Bishop who ordained me, Bishop Frade, follows the custom of asking for the new priest’s blessing as soon the recessional hymn is over and the altar party is in the narthex, or back of the church, after the service. He kneels in front of the new priest for the blessing; that is what he did that evening. Immediately after he knelt, Father Alex Roque knelt beside him and asked for my blessing as well.
Recently, a clip from an interview with Stephen Colbert made the rounds on Facebook. Though he was reflecting quite positively on a Eucharist he attended, where an Anglican woman priest was celebrating, his words made it crystal clear that in his eyes, a woman is not, cannot, will not ever be, a priest. Funny/sad how that cut in a way I wouldn’t have expected, I guess because I hold Colbert in such high regard. Much of what Pope Francis has said and done, not only on this trip, but throughout his papacy, has inspired me and filled me with hope. There was also this during the Vespers service he led at St. Patrick’s earlier this week: he effusively thanked the women religious of the Roman Catholic Church for all they have done in this country and, in response, got a standing ovation. Yet those self-same women religious were in the very back rows of the cathedral that night, while the clergy and wealthy patrons of the church got the prime seats. Sure, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and all that. But the women’s voices in the Catholic Church that try to articulate a sense of vocation to ordained ministry experience the black hole, the deafening silence, of the NO that continues to echo throughout the Roman Catholic Church.
Overlaid on that reality, Fr. Alex’s gesture on the night of my ordination is truly the gift of a precious pearl, a glimpse of the Kingdom. The no’s have a way of not being the final word—certainly, I have experienced that in full measure in my own life. Today, I am more aware than usual of the mountain-moving and life changing power of yes.