"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, September 21, 2004 Vicki Sirota once told me that there are two roles I would have as a priest -- my actual job description that was in my contract and what I vowed in my ordination vows. Many times they would fold nicely into each other, many times they would not. The tendency when they don't is to go with the job description because there are usually people you want to please holding you accountable to that. Our call is to go the other way and at all times uphold the vows. It's some of the best advice I've ever gotten.
After morning prayer every weekday at Rockwell House, I lead those present in a reaffirmation of their baptismal covenant and they lead me in a reaffirmation of my ordination vows. We do this to remind ourselves as we begin each day of who we are and who God calls us to be. I find that, like most things, if our vows sit on a shelf gathering dust they have no effect on our lives. But if we continually reaffirm and revisit them, they shape us. As I revisit my baptismal, ordination and marriage vows regularly, I start to think in terms of them. For me, that means when things come up in my life during the day, they become the foundation on which I make decisions and shape my behavior. To use another analogy, they become the scaffolding upon which I hang my life.
Frankly, we probably should go back further. For the baptismal covenant, we should go back to the renunciations and adhesions. That's where it gets to the core stuff about renouncing evil and turning and accepting Christ and putting your whole trust in his grace and love. It's not a bad idea to at least once a day re-affirm that vow to put our whole trust in Christ.
For the ordination vows, we should probably go back further, too. The first thing the bishop says to the ordinand in the service is this:
Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work.
to which you reply
I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church.
Vows are about putting ourselves under authority ... under the authority of God, Church, scripture, bishop, spouse, community. I think it's easy to forget how completely counter-cultural this is in a society that elevates individual liberty to almost the be-all and end-all of virtues.
You can't talk about discipleship without talking about being under authority. When I became baptized, I gave up freedom. When I became ordained, I gave up more freedom. I gave it up believing that in "conforming" (a four-letter word to a lot of people) to the life of a disciple as we in the Episcopal Church understand it, that I will actually become more free as I am freed from the undisciplined life that imprisons me, from the life led by the whims of my own desires that governs me.
This doesn't mean that I can't be a prophetic voice ... but it means that I must pick up that mantle with great trepidation. I can push the envelope, but recognizing that I have a deep responsibility to only do it if I feel it is moving the church into a fuller living and understanding of what it means to be "loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ." And, as someone under bishop and canons, I must be willing to accept any consequence that comes of my envelope-pushing.
THis is one of the hardest aspects of ordained ministry ... and it is one of the big things that separates us from congregational churches. We are responsible to more than just ourselves, we are responsible to the wider church in space and time.
Much has been made of this in the current controversy over the consecration of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire. People (like me) who supported it are being accused of violating this vow. And that is something we need to take very seriously. I hope and believe that all clergy who voted at General Convention did so believing they were living most fully into this vow. I shudder when I see evidence since convention that different factions of the church are slipping alternately down a slippery slope of "anything goes" or putting down a rigid standard of Biblical fundamentalism -- neither of which has ever been part of the doctrine, discipline and worship of Anglicans.
I am willing and ready to do so. It's kind of like taking the red pill in the Matrix. It's an invitation to go down the rabbit hole and see how far down it really goes.
But when you think of it, it's all really an extension of what we promise in baptism -- as all ordination is. When you look at it, it's just another way of asking the same questions:
Do you turn to Christ and accept him as your savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
When it comes down to it, there really aren't any other questions out there. All the rest is trying to sort out the How.
| Mike at 9/21/2004 11:53:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."