Looking out at the crowd that had filled the Anglican cathedral, I was amazed, surprised, and overwhelmed. They had come from everywhere: friends and family, colleagues and ecumenical co-workers. The church catholic was present in its fullest sense: Pentecostal, Baptist, United, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic. Especially Roman Catholic: a sea of them along with several priests and one higher-ranking official. The happy grins spoke volumes: I was not the only one who had looked forward to this moment.
In the midst of this ecumenical community of faith I claimed my call before the bishop, made vows and promises, and knelt for the “holy huddle” — Anglican, Lutheran, United and Presbyterian clergy colleagues and two Roman Catholic priests joined the bishop in the solemn laying on of hands.
Ordained a priest. I still struggle to find the words. The impact of the experience was profound in my own heart-mind-spirit, in my experience of church, and in the effects upon my current ministry. Given the ecumenical makeup of the assembly that night, I felt truly ordained by and into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in the broadest/fullest sense of that term.
I have always been mindful of the role the faith community plays when one claims a call to ministry; one is called by and for the community, never for oneself. Now this crucial role was expressed in the most tangible way possible — the community’s presence and participation was their fiat. A deepening and affirmation, blessing and mandate all rolled into one holy Spirit-filled act of ordination. No wonder I still struggle to find words.
The next morning I presided over the (Anglican) holy eucharist for the first time in a Catholic retreat centre, which included a renewal of marriage vows for Jim and I — it was our wedding anniversary. Like the night before, the People of God in all denominational diversity packed the worship space, hungering for a “taste of heaven” where divisions and barriers melted away: take and eat, take and drink, all of you.
Maybe a number of firsts occurred: Roman Catholic clergy present, some joining in the laying on of hands, another bowing his head for my first priestly blessing afterward; a religious sister leading music at the Anglican eucharist the next morning while persons from various traditions served as acolyte, readers, communion assistants; communion bread baked by an Anglican-RC couple; those with different beliefs finding a space of respect and hospitality while getting caught up in the joy and gratitude of the occasion.
That I may at last taste the joy of fulfilling this vocation still feels like a miracle. What seemed elusive for more than 26 years has come to pass. At the same time it was always there, for the priestly call lived in my heart as an animating light, a wellspring of grace and love. Several months later, I clearly have not recovered from the intensity and holiness of it all — I hope I never will.
Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. I am now pastoring two rural parishes, Anglican and Lutheran. All the pieces of my life’s puzzle have come together: formation and ministry experiences of the past 26 years are now all bearing fruit in these two small parishes on the Canadian Prairies.
Now living Christian discipleship in the Anglican household of God is opening new spiritual vistas and blessings. Meanwhile, my Roman Catholic family of origin continues to occupy a cherished place in my heart. In her bosom my faith was nourished and my vocation was born. I truly live a double belonging. The increasing opportunities for joint ministry with my local Catholic priest and his parishioners are therefore sources of deep joy and immense gratitude, weaving unity in my spirit and among our people.
We don’t make journeys like this in isolation. In this final column of Double Belonging I extend a heartfelt thank you for the company and friendship, prayers and support of so many on this road toward priestly ministry. It truly takes a community to call a priest/pastor. Pray that I will continue to fulfil this sacred trust faithfully, placing my priesthood at the service of the full visible unity of God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Ternier is an Anglican priest who serves the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, Sask. This column is co-published with the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com