Sitting in the back row…

I went to the Ordination service in Wellington Cathedral today. Last year I was ordained Deacon, and it was a real highlight of my life. Today, it was with mixed feelings that I went, because the original plan was that I would be ordained a priest today, with the group who were ordained with me last year.

It was a wonderful service though, and we prayed for the ordinands, and wished them well.

The Permanent Deacons sat behind the choir, which was a mixed blessing – having been a member of the cathedral choir some 23 years ago it was  delight to hear them again, up-close and personal, and I had to stop myself joining in the sublime singing of the Sanctus. But the difficult bit was when the priests all went forward to lay their hands on the bishop as he ordained the new priests. The Deacons were not part of that.

Isn’t it the same Holy Spirit? Weren’t we ordained by the laying on of hands of the bishop? Having been a Pentecostal for some years, we all took part in stretching out our hands for someone who was being prayed for, and there a was real sense of being part of the Holy Spirit’s work. Today felt anachronistic, as if the practice was out-of-step with modern theology.

There is a lot of talk around the place about how the division between Deacons and priests shouldn’t be hierarchical, but in a service like this one, with processions starting with Deacons and ending with Bishops, there is certainly is a sense of hierarchy.

Quite a few of my colleagues asked me if I was going to be priested next year, and were surprised that I was not included in this year’s group. I explained that, no, I am now a Permanent Deacon, and it’s a wonderful thing to be! And I truly believe that Deacons have a very necessary role in the church, and in its community-facing work. I am glad to be part of that. But so many of our clergy and parishioners don’t yet have a sense of what the Diaconate can be, that it’s just regarded as a sort of ‘half-measure’, not quite ‘up to’ the priesting level.

Until these perceptions are challenged we will always be relegated to the back row, both literally and metaphorically.

Luke 10:1-4  Later the Lord chose seventy-two other followers and sent them out two by two to every town and village where he was about to go.
 He said to them: A large crop is in the fields, but there are only a few workers. Ask the Lord in charge of the harvest to send out workers to bring it in.
Now go, but remember, I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves.
Don’t take along a moneybag or a traveling bag or sandals. And don’t waste time greeting people on the road.

Bishop Justin preached on this text – I will add the link tomorrow.

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