Weekly Reflection – 5-11 July 2009

Posted on: Saturday 4th July 2009

Tu es Petrus (ii)

The instructive example of St Peter came to mind again last Monday, as I stood, sweltering, in our neighbouring church in Eaton Square, a church under the patronage of Peter, and thus a most appropriate venue for the ordination of five new priests. As Gareth, Mark, Annie, Ed and Pete faced the congregation, vested for the first time in their priestly stoles, a burst of applause broke out. It was an expression of affection for the five, from families, friends and parishioners, and also an acknowledgment, I guess, of the journey each has made to priesthood. Nevertheless, I winced slightly, not simply because applause is not in the rubrics, but because it suggests that being ordained priest is somehow a personal accomplishment, like passing your A levels or driving test.

The example of Peter reminds us that Christ chooses those whom he chooses not for our accomplishments, but in order to accomplish his work in us. Our job, if that’s the word, is not to get in the way too much; so theology degrees, liturgical expertise and familiarity with the historic formularies of the Church of England, while useful and necessary,  are not ends in themselves, but the means to realise ends which are not ours at all.

And yet… there is something irreducibly personal about priesthood too. Priests are not mannequins but people, with character and individuality, in whom strength and weakness and confusion and insight contend (as if anyone needed reminding). Ordination does not relieve the priest of the baggage he or she has acquired on life’s journey any more than it cancels out personality. Jolly people make jolly priests, sarcastic people make sarcastic priests, angry people make angry priests and so on; and the Grace of Orders, by which we are empowered to discharge the duties that ordination lays upon us, works not around these things but through them. I sometimes think it’s a little like an orchestra, in which strings and woodwind and brass and percussion combine, in all their rasping, vibrating, sawing, clunky individuality. The net effect, however, is not cacophony, but harmony and pattern and meaning, the individual strands woven into a song which is greater than its peculiar parts. As an audience, sometimes we get too close and rather than harmony all we can hear is the mechanics of sound production. Maybe, like audiences, we need to stand back a bit, find perspective and distance, before we can really hear the music.

Fr Richard Coles, Curate