20 years ago, I was ordained as a priest.
The preacher was the late Cedric Mills, retired as Bishop of the Virgin Islands and legally blind, but still in strong, deep voice and faithful ministry at the altar (he memorized both traditional and contemporary Communion rites before losing his sight).
He preached on Isaiah 40:1, Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. He drove home the point that this message was given to a prophet to strengthen God’s people. To “comfort” was not to coddle them, but to assure them that God would forgive their past failures and give them power to build a holy future. My ministry, insisted Bishop Mills, would be to strengthen God’s people to share Christ’s work.
It’s played out that way over the last twenty years. The great joy and good fruit of my work has always been to watch people, groups and congregations grow as they learned who they could be with God’s help. I’ve seen things “greater than I could ask or imagine” happen when I did little more than receive what God provided – the Bible to read, the people to encourage, some words to preach, some prayers to lift, and a bit of bread and wine to offer.
My other main ordination memory is how the late Bishop Oliver Garver, always one for ceremony, anointed my hands with oil. Can’t say that my hands have always done good over the two decades since, yet God has used them to bless in the Name of Jesus, whose innocent hands were wounded for all of us.
Last year, with all kinds of church, family and financial troubles swirling around me, I lifted the bread and wine at the altar one Sunday and snuck in a quick, silent prayer. I said to Christ, “I put myself in your hands.” And before I could take a breath or think a thought, I heard him answer in the Spirit, “I’ve put myself in yours.” I will never understand his inefficient system, sharing the wonder of who he is through the feeble ministry of people who are so unlike him. But I love him and bless his Name for entrusting this work to me.
I give you thanks, Heavenly Father, that you called me to this ministry, and that you continue to use me in it with all my flaws and failures. Thank you for letting me serve as a precious and powerful part of Christ’s Body on Earth, by the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on that day, twenty years ago. Amen.
P.S. On Sunday the Altar Guild presented a green chasuble, and my family the matching stole, made by Br. Sebastian of Blue Cloud Abbey. It was a complete surprise and humbling honor.