The clerical procession
Last Sunday, three of my friends were ordained at our cathedral: one to the diaconate, and two to the priesthood. I was in the loft, singing with the choir, and had a bird's-eye view of the processions and the proceedings (but unfortunately, only my camera phone in my pocket.)
An ordination is a momentous occasion, representing and celebrating many years of discernment, struggle, study, training and preparation. In liturgical traditions such as ours, the ordinand is taking solemn vows and receiving permission to do particular tasks. Deacons (the Greek word means "servant", "minister", or "messanger") are the church's eyes and ears and hands in the world; they also preach and assist at the mass. In most cases being ordained a deacon is the first step toward becoming a priest, which happens after another year, though some people feel called to the diaconate itself as a profession. In the case of priests, ordination means being able to perform all the sacraments such as baptism and marriage, and particularly, to "say mass" or celebrate the Eucharist.
I've known a lot of priests as good friends, and had a number of friends who have become priests during the time I've known them. Following and writing about Gene Robinson's journey from priest to his ordination as bishop gave me an additional window into the deeply personal journey this unusual and difficult path entails. Nobody takes it lightly, and an ordination always feels moving to me.
The candidate for deacon kneels alone at the altar.
The friends who were ordained on Sunday included a woman who is our present assistant at the cathedral, and two men, both of whom are openly gay and in committed relationships. Although such ordinations have been going on for some time in the U.S., this was the first ordination of an openly gay, non-celibate candidate to the priesthood in our diocese. Last year, when he was ordained a deacon, people rose and objected at the point in the service where the bishop asks if anyone feels there is "an impediment." This year, the bishop read a letter of objection he had received, but no one stood up in person , and the bishop calmly proceeded. When the ordinations were finished and the new deacon and priests presented, the congregation warmly applauded for many minutes; most of us have been involved in this struggle for years, and we recognized the moment for what it was.
The clergy gather to lay hands on the candidates for priesthood at the moment of ordination.
As I watched and listened and sang, I thought back to the time when there were no women priests -- in my childhood, women were not even allowed to read the lessons or to serve on the vestry. I thought of Gene Robinson's ordination, and his appearance at this cathedral for our first "OutMass" a year later -- of how packed it was, of the tears in the eyes of people who had never dared hope they would be accepted by a church because of their sexual orientation; men and women who had been shamed and rejected by the Roman Catholic church and denied communion, and community; people who had not taken communion for decades but did so that day as they listened, some weeping, to an openly gay bishop tell them they were loved by God just as they were, for that is how they had been created. That may have been the day, I think, that our bishop made the courageous decision to stand behind the ordination of gay men and women in our diocese, and soon formally accepted the candidacy of one of the men who was ordained last Sunday.
Bishop Gene Robinson preaches at the first OutMass, Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, in the summer of 2006
For the most part, I feel the church and most congregations in North America, at least, are moving on. In England, there's still a huge and ridiculous debate over whether women are qualified to be bishops, and in other parts of the world the church still upholds laws that demonize and persecute homosexuals. Gene Robinson was utterly alone in the Anglican Communion for a number of years but now is no longer the only openly gay bishop to be elected. (He's also retiring this year.) The Catholic church is still embroiled in scandals over predatory, pedophile priests who did incalculable damage to children, and yet refuses to budge on the issues of ordaining women, or allowing priests to marry. I'm glad my denomination is less stuck, and tries to act with integrity, even as the church's relevance wanes, and glad I've been able to play a small part in the ongoing struggle for equality for all people.