On 27 years ago today and tomorrow
Being a person who rarely has a thought that I don't write down, each year around this time I look back at the days running up to my ordination and read what I wrote. Before you think I'm being all spiritual and holy, I can assure you that many of the things I wrote about wouldn't exactly be classified as great spiritual literature by any stretch of the imagination. For example, I somehow thought it important to record for posterity no less than three times that I was possessed of a 31-inch waist as I walked down the aisle of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. (Knowing me now, the fact that I once had a 31-inch waist perhaps seems a bigger miracle than the aforementioned Immaculate Conception itself). The menu for the dinner-dance my father and stepmother generously hosted in my honour was a constant source of reflection - I think we all know how mortifying the presence of dry chicken can be at a party, not to mention invited guests for whom "open bar" could be a siren's song to disaster itself. Several versions of my "spontaneous" speech exist, with the curious mystery of one name that had been listed ending up being crossed off. (I have no memory of what that poor guy had done to merit the axing of my public gratitude.)
My recollections of the service itself tend to be a little more substantive, Deo gratias. I wrote a great deal about how overcome I was when, lying prostrate on the cold marble floor, I heard the litany of saints being sung over me, a reminder that Christ's Body extended further in both time and space than just to the people who were in that cathedral that day. I naturally thought of people who had helped me arrive at that point who had died - most notably my mother and grandmother - and I felt them just as present there as if they had been sitting out in the pews.
The other high point was the laying on of hands, that ancient and sacred gesture. After the bishop, every priest present (and there were hundreds of them) came to where my classmate Tom and I were kneeling and laid hands on us as well. Not being able to look up to see who the person in front of me was, I concentrated on their shoes. Now lest you think I've reverted back to some of my more shallow musings, I wasn't trying to distinguish one who might be wearing Gucci from one who got his shoes at Walmart, I was more struck by the idea that in approaching me, in the quick step of the young or the laboured shuffling of the aged, these men were not just sharing some Medieval idea of a transfer of power; no, more than simply kneeling and feeling as if I were receiving something, I felt as if I were being invited onto a journey into the sacred - and a continuance of a journey to the Kingdom begun at my baptism - and these men were promising to accompany me on that journey.
In these days there have been loads of emails flying about regarding what to do about the ordinations of Annie and others which were to have been celebrated at Petertide. Some tentative dates and places have been established, and - though we don't know details yet - there are some things that seem certain. For starters, only a handful of guests will be invited to a ceremony that is going to be "simplified." My first thought was that I hoped we still did a litany of saints, so that even if the church itself might seem empty, Annie would have that audible reminder of all those throughout history and all those yet to come who would be with her. And the other thing we know for sure is that each ordinand will only have one bishop and one priest who will perform the laying on of hands. (I'm massively chuffed that Annie has asked me.)
I think we've done a pretty good job of keeping connected and praying together during these difficult times. We are nothing if not resilient, and closed church buildings do not a closed Church make. But the upcoming ordinations seem to highlight that two of the things that so many of us are missing - physical gathering and physical touch - are still beyond our reach. And I have to admit that I'm saddened by this. I know I am not alone in mourning this particular loss.
And I wish I had some magic words that would make us all feel better, but, sadly, I do not. I can only offer a testimony: a testimony ritually presented twenty-seven years ago today; a testimony expressed in words of communion and belonging bouncing over marble floors; a testimony of the touch of service-anointed hands; a testimony of shoes shuffling towards the Kingdom. Our God is still with us, and we are still together. Closed churches do not a closed Church make.
I'll leave you with those pearls of wisdom. And speaking of pearls ... well, we've got another three more years of our journey before we have to worry about that.