I was in Melbourne a few days ago for a long-awaited and long-desired occasion: the ordination of Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, who blogs here.
The occasion was held at The Church of All Nations, a Uniting Church mission in inner-city Carlton.
I had a lovely time. Avril met me at the airport, and once her alb was safely dropped off at CAN we had lunch and browsed the wonderful Readings bookshop, before making our way back to the church.
The service was very good. Robert Gribben (Professor of Worship and Mission; former member of the Working Group on Worship; my co-editor for Uniting in Worship 2) preached an excellent sermon, which you may find at the end of this post.
After the ordination, these evidential photos were taken:
The next day, we were reflecting how ordination is one of those steps in life—like marriage, or having children—that you can’t take back. A truly life-changing step, after which you are not the same person as you were before.
Steps like that can take a little time to get used to. They can be anxiety-provoking. It has struck me since I got home that there are other steps that are life-changing; we should include baptism in this list, after all. But a few weeks ago my 21-year old son took another kind of step that he couldn’t take back. He took a step out of a little booth suspended high above us, and fell. The fact that his ankles were attached to a length of rope did not make his parents feel any better!
Chris didn’t hesitate in stepping out; I couldn’t do what he did myself. He’s braver than I am! Here again is photo evidence:
Is it a step too far to compare these two irrevocable steps? I don’t think so. Each requires determination; each—including bungee jumping—is a response to a call.
A bungee jump is of necessity a plunge into thin air. An ordination is a step into—what? Perhaps it is a leap of faith. The Brisbane-based spiritual director Patrick Oliver talks about ‘falling into God’. I was certainly glad Chris’s fall ended in the expected way; but as we each fall into God, how readily will we take that step?
One huge difference is that while bungee jumping has a definite time limit, falling into God is a lifelong project. When will it end? Never. Not even in eternity.
As an ordained minister falls into God, she falls in community. We are not shamanic figures, falling spectacularly to the awed gaze of the onlookers. We fall (in the words of Robert’s sermon following) as broken symbols, inviting faith in God. We fall into God as representative figures, joined by a common baptism, inviting others to fall with us. How will we land? All we know is that underneath are the everlasting arms.
Avril and Chris, both of you have taken wonderful, irrevocable, steps. I’m glad I was there.
And for those who still wish to read, here (with no mention of bungee jumping!) is Robert’s fine sermon:
THE JABBOCK LIMP
A sermon preached at the Ordination to the Ministry of the Word of
Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, Church of All Nations, Sunday 5th October 2008.
Genesis 32: 22-31; Matthew 5: 13-16
Gordon Lathrop, the Lutheran liturgical scholar, in his marvellous book The Pastor, a spirituality, begins by observing that pastors (which is the Lutheran word for priests, ministers, preachers) are symbols, and the tools of their ministry are symbols. This symbolic status might be glimpsed by the public in a cross around the neck or a clerical collar, or an icon on the study wall, or a well-thumbed New Testament for the home visit. These, he says, are secondary things: ‘the primary symbols in a Christian pastor’s care ought to be quite specific things, basically communal in their practice, historic in their ecumenical centrality, widely resonant in their meaning’.
He means, quite simply, what he often calls ‘Book, Bath and Table’, preaching, baptism and eucharist. From these three primary symbols, he sees all else flowing, especially the church’s concern for the world in intercession and in the collection for the poor, the first sign of social justice. These responses lose their point if they become unconnected to Book, Bath and Table. They are the fundamental implements of those called to the order of ministry in the Church.