7/30/2014

It was forty years ago, yesterday, and God calls - always.

Front Page of Ordination Service
It was 40 years ago, yesterday, that women were first ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. This was an important moment, both for The Episcopal Church, and for the wider Christian community. It wasn't the first such ordination, nor was it an ordination recognized either by all Episcopalians or any other catholic body (Romans or Orthodox).  But it was a big thing. I was fortunate enough to be able to be there and I took part in the laying on of hands. The service leaflet was very simple.  I've kept a copy all these years.

Bishop Pierre Whalon has written a fine piece on this over on the Huntington Post. Go read it. It sets the event in context very well.

Elizabeth Keaton has written on her blog, "The Call." Again a fine piece of writing, and a great thanksgiving for a powerful community of women. Go read it HERE.

In the middle of his article Bishop Whalon writes, 

"God calls, or does not call. All of the acts of God take place in the pure freedom that characterizes the life of the Holy Trinity. Every baptized person has a share in the resurrected Body of Christ, and is given individual gifts for the ministry of that Body on earth (see I Corinthians 12). This ministry or service is also in the image of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve by giving his life that we might have life (Mark 10:45, among many verses). Each of us is called to play a unique role in our time and place. A few are called to minister to the Church."

We remember, don't we, times very recent (40 years ago yesterday) when it was apparent to most Episcopalians that God did not call women to minister to the Church as priests. But all that changed because of what happened that day.
Page listing Ordinands

It turns out that God's call to eleven women was to something more than ordination, it was to incarnation. These eleven were called to BE the reality of the idea, that in the priesthood women had place, standing. Prior to 40 years ago yesterday the notion of women priests in the Episcopal Church was an IDEA. 40 years ago yesterday the idea became a reality. God called these women to be the reality of the idea. 

Whalon uses the phrase, "God calls, or does not call" several times in his essay. On one level he is exactly right. About any direction that we might like to take, God may or may not call us to that. And, as I ought to know from wide personal experience, God uses a variety of voices to indicate divine direction. And God's direction is quite often not the one we might have wanted to choose.   

"God calls, or does not call," sounds about right on one level. But on another level, I am convinced that God calls, period. 

We, as faithful people, are all constantly driven forward by the conviction that God is working in us a purpose and that we are guided in purpose by God's call, which is not to this or that choice or desire, but is in fact independent of any ambitions, hopes, imaginations or dreams we may individually have regarding our place or position in church or society. 

That is, "God calls, or does not call," is true for any given direction about which we may express preference. But in the "pure freedom that characterizes the life of the Holy Trinity" God always calls us forward into that freedom. 

Every response to that service which is perfect freedom is a response to God's call. God always calls, it is we who sometimes believe we were not called because we expected particular outcomes. We sometimes wish one thing, but get another. Our discipleship, our giving way to God's call, and even our willingness to deal with what God seems to dish out as a path, is often costly.

Over the years I have often thought on the cost of that discipleship for the Philadelphia Eleven and the women who were first ordained.  In addition to being called to the priesthood, they were called to a most peculiar ministry of incarnating an idea. But the cost was high. For by being the incarnation of an idea they were targets for all who could not bear the reality they represented. The cost was very high indeed.

So I believe God calls... always. God sometimes calls us to tasks we did not know would be ours and to ministries unlike any we had imagined. But God calls. Always.

I once received a post card from a good friend (Jim may you live forever). On the front was a stand of trees in the snow, the trees were all marked by snow on one side, the side that faced the wind. The caption was, "Shhh! It comes, it goes."

We stand (baptism being our standing place) and the wind of God blows, and we are marked in some way, called to stand as witness to that Spirit now in (or on) us. 

40 years ago, yesterday, the wind blew... "Shhh! It comes and goes."  And it left its mark, and we are all blessed by the idea made real. 


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