“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?”
It’s been a while since we’ve had an ordination to the priesthood at St. John’s and on Saturday, November 23, at 11:00 a.m., we will have two! Daniel Mark Cenci and Candice Burk Frazer have been approved by the councils of the Church, have served their time as transitional deacons, and now, through the laying on of hands by the bishop and priests and the conveying of the Holy Spirit, they will be made priests in the Episcopal Church. Thereafter they will step into even fuller partnership in leading this congregation in its mission to worship God and make disciples for Jesus Christ. Having had to wait for years now, they will be entrusted with consecrating the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ and pronouncing blessings and absolution in the Name of our Lord and Savior
Coming to be a priest is a slow and arduous process. When people present themselves to the Church and express interest in ordination, the Church in many ways tells them to slow down and wait. It takes at least a year of meeting with a sponsoring priest, then at least another year of gaining the support of a diocese, then at least three years of seminary education, then at least six months of service as a transitional deacon. Then, finally, the Church allows for that which the candidates have experienced a call.
And the Church’s part is the quicker one. The call itself is typically something that takes years to develop. Both Daniel and Candice look back at least ten years in their lives to the beginnings of their calls to ordination. Such calls feel so substantial and represent such sacrifice that most people take a number of years to process the call. In our tradition no one pops up one day with the impulse to be priest and is allowed to move along quickly. Discernment takes years.
The call always begins in a deeply personal way. Those who seek ordination will report a sense of being chosen by God for service. There is a deepening of faith and the observation of God’s hand at work all around them. Not all conversion stories end up in ordination but all ordinations begin with some sort of conversion experience where God touches one’s heart and won’t let go. The whole world seems to open up.
As candidates move forward toward ordination, their worlds necessarily get smaller and smaller. God’s grace continues to be revealed in larger and larger ways but those seeking ordination find that their call is not to serve as a free agent out and about in the big world; those ordained take a vow to serve God within a pretty small institution called the Episcopal Church and to be faithful to it in particular. Just as those getting married experience love as a gift from God but take a vow to love one person, priests experience a call from God but take vows to the Church. That’s how our world gets smaller. We are not taking some individual vow to serve God as we think best. We take a vow to serve the Church as it shares Christ with the world.
Daniel, Candice, and I are certainly individuals with significantly differing strengths and characteristics. We are not the same and that is a very good thing. But as we take ordination vows, we agree that who we are as individuals is less important than the office of priesthood. Always we represent something beyond ourselves. When we are ordained we say that the Church matters more than we do as individuals. We agree to live within that limitation. Obedience involves sacrifice but faithfulness is its own reward. It teaches us about the ways of God and reveals the ways of God to others.
As Daniel and Candice’s world gets smaller in some ways with the vows they take, God’s kingdom keeps getting bigger and bigger. Priests are called to speak to the Church about the vastness of God’s grace and to live within the community of faith as witnesses. That marvelous grace has brought us two fine servants of the Gospel and we are most grateful for his abundance and their character.
“Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Daniel and Candice; fill them with grace and power, and make them priests in your Church.”
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.