An Act of Imaginative Hope

By Elizabeth Welch

This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered at Ruth Dantzer’s ordination to the priesthood, held at UVic Interfaith Chapel on Nov.16, 2019 (the full sermon is available on the diocesan website). On that date, we commemorate Margaret, Queen of Scots, Helper of the Poor. Elizabeth Welch is incumbent at St George the Martyr, Cadboro Bay.

Just think for a moment of a spiritual experience (for lack of a better term) you’ve had. Perhaps it was gazing at the blank brilliance of a full moon just declothed of clouds; or standing before the waves of the ocean which, despite the chaos in your mind, just keep washing ashore in their untroubled rhythm thereby soothing your soul; or holding your newborn baby to your breast; or kneeling on the damp earth before the grave of a loved one; or entering a church and receiving a bit of bread and a sip of wine and suddenly being filled with a sense of your unity with every hungry being who has ever walked the earth. We have all had experiences that simultaneously take us out of ourselves and bring us home to ourselves.

The point is we all have experiences of the Holy. Why then do we ordain people? The word “ordain” stems from the Old French ordener meaning to “place in order, arrange, prepare; consecrate, or designate.”We ordain priests, I think, because we need people to help us navigate the borderlands of our lives. Ordained priests help us embody and integrate our experiences of the Holy; they preside over the rituals that turn us again and again towards the Holy. They accompany and encourage us as we carry the snuffed candles of our souls back to the Holy Fire of God to be relit. They are a symbol, a reminder, that God is not just in some distant realm we cannot touch but is always meeting us here in the chaos of the world, if we have the courage to look with our hearts. They help us open the daily invitations we receive to dwell in divine love, to seek divine justice.

Ordained priests are not closer to God, we’re just designated to keep turning us all toward God, when it would really be much simpler to turn away. Dwelling in God’s presence sounds lovely and comforting but sometimes actually it’s nothing short of terrifying, because if we dwell with God then we have to go where God calls. There is a good reason why nearly all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, when called by God, say in some way or another: “Hmmm, don’t you think you’d like to find someone else for that job?” And God will burn away all the layers of fakery to get to the core of us, the naked us, and will say: “you are so beautiful, and I love you.” God’s love always confronts and transforms us if we let it, and that is always a little terrifying.

In the Anglican Christian tradition, to give us courage and direction in our own journey of faith, we honour the lives of certain faithful people who’ve come before us. Today is the commemoration of Margaret, Queen of Scots. Margaret was an Anglo-Saxon princess who was married to King Malcolm III of the Scottish people in 1069. She is revered as the “helper of the poor” because she went out to meet the poor where they were and she brought them into her home and knelt and washed their feet, and she sought to reform institutions to better serve them.

This is I think the best summary of what the work of a priest is: to love such that those we serve are called to love the world more.

And when I say love, I don’t mean love like the saccharine sweetness of a Hallmark card. But love like bread in the mouths of the hungry, love like standing on the front lines pressed up against the police barricades as we protect our sacred lands, love like cutting ourselves off from fossil fuels and seeking a way to live that honours the generations to come, and love like reaching across the lines that divide us.

What I think I’m trying to say is that being an imam or sheikh or rabbi or priest or a minister or pastor is inherently political. It is a defiance of all that would tell us that the world is only a marketplace and we are only products in it, a refusal to accept that the almighty dollar is the altar at which we should bow. It is to say, “God is bigger than all the pharaohs of all the world; and God’s bottom line is bread in the mouths of the hungry, the earth restored, the human family offering to one another the dignity to which we are called.” When I say clergy-people are political, it is because they insist on behalf of us all that every living being is worthy of tender care.

What I think I’m trying to say is that being an imam or sheikh or rabbi or priest or a minister or pastor is inherently political. It is a defiance of all that would tell us that the world is only a marketplace and we are only products in it, a refusal to accept that the almighty dollar is the altar at which we should bow. It is to say, “God is bigger than all the pharaohs of all the world; and God’s bottom line is bread in the mouths of the hungry, the earth restored, the human family offering to one another the dignity to which we are called.” When I say clergy-people are political, it is because they insist on behalf of us all that every living being is worthy of tender care.

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Diocesan Post – Anglican Diocese of B.C, January 2020