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how not to argue for sequential ordination

Episcopal Café has blogged a two-part series arguing for "direct ordination": ordaining people called to be priests directly to the priesthood without the current practice ("sequential ordination") of ordaining them as deacons first and then waiting six months to a year before ordaining them to the priesthood. It's sparking a lot of dialogue on the email list for bishops and deputies to the Episcopal Church's General Convention, and I'm finding it extraordinarily interesting to see how people in favor of the current system argue for it. Here's what I posted to the bishops-deputies list on the subject:

Our church's current practice of sequential ordination has the weight of tradition behind it, but I think the series on Episcopal Café has an excellent point in how odd some of our arguments for upholding sequential ordination are.

For example, I could envision residents of some alternative Anglican universe saying things such as this:

"My time as a transitional deacon has vastly enriched my ministry as a layperson. If Confirmation did not require a period of preparation in which I served as an ordained deacon, I would never have had so many rich opportunities to engage in intentional servant ministry, which today help to remind me that my work as an accountant and volunteering in the soup kitchen are equally a call and set of opportunities to serve the 'least of these,' the poor and the marginalized."

"My time as a transitional priest has vastly enriched my discipleship as a layperson. I will never forget those times at the altar when I was praying the epiklesis as a transitional priest during my fifth year of EFM, and I think of those every time I receive the elements as a layperson. My transitional priesthood continues to underscore for me that it is the entire congregation and not just its presider that truly makes the Eucharist the Lord's Meal, and I don't know how people managed to understand the priesthood of all believers before we instituted transitional priesthood as preparation for key lay ministries."

"I rejoice daily for my time as a transitional bishop. It reminds me as a CEO that oversight is not for lording over others, but is a ministry of guarding an order of life for communities that nourishes the whole and that brings out the apostolic gifts of every member. As it happens, both of my next-door neighbors are also Episcopalians who have served as transitional bishops, and they too value the experience in their very different contexts. Jolene, the high school algebra teacher, tells me that it helps her to see that her vocation as a teacher is fundamentally shepherding and drawing out leadership qualities. Sharon, the motorcycle mechanic, says it helps her to look at the neighborhood, the PTA, and the county, state, nation, and world as fields ripe for harvest, and underscores her authority as a layperson to exercise her gifts for oversight to get them all humming together like a well-tuned engine. And we agree that the practice of ordaining transitional bishops has strengthened the ministry of permanent bishops as well. We can't imagine how, under the old system, bishops managed to avoid temptation to see their ministry of episkope as a lifelong entitlement."

The argument for direct ordination meets its biggest challenge, I think, on grounds of tradition, which are strong. In contrast, "it works for me" is prone to counter-examples of "it doesn't work for me," "this other way could work for me," and "if transitional ordination is your call, that's great, but it isn't mine."

January 13, 2010 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink


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Thank you, Dylan, for this. You turn things on their heads, as Jesus did. I love the part about the transitional episcopacy, and how not having it that way could leave bishops with a sense of lifelong entitlement (!). In a Swiftian, satirical way, you've illuminated the issue. I wish to add that because I am a Unitarian Universalist, this issue was not on my radar, and still has little relevance to me, but the commentary from the other universe from which you write most certainly has powerful implications for me (as an ordained minister) and, perhaps, for everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. Thank you.

Posted by: Benjamin Hall | Jan 21, 2010 9:24:05 AM

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