The Ordination of The Rev. Nancy Antrim to the Sacred Order of Priests
31 July, 2021
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Marfa, TX
The Rev. Carolyn W. Metzler
1 Cor. 10: 31-11:11; Psalm 34: 1-8; Luke 9:57-62
(Song for the Asking)
Nancy! This day is come! We rejoice and are glad in it! Nancy’s family! Thank you for raising a mother who has the heart and mind and will to offer herself to this ministry this day! Bishop! People who have served as Nancy’s discernment team! Iona folk! Thank you for your care and thoughtful work in preparing her for this day. People of Marfa, Alpine, Terlingua, and Nancy’s community from far and wide! Thank you for supporting her during her long process of discernment, disappointment, doubt, and persistent uncovering and recovering her sense of vocation. Truly it takes the whole Body of Christ to ordain a priest.
Let’s take another look at what we do here today, just to make sure we’ve all come for the same thing. In a few minutes the Bishop will read the Examination, which sounds a lot like a job description. In short, he will articulate the work of your priesthood in five ways: to love your people, to administer the sacraments, to preach and teach, to pronounce absolution, and to bless. All these are well and fine. They need to be there. But I might quibble a bit with the architect of this liturgy and point out that they only describe the work of a priest who is actively serving a church. Among other things. You’ll notice it says nothing about raising money, balancing budgets, fixing the boiler, functioning administratively, growing the church, or making coffee! Maybe all that (and so much more) get included in what I call the “sacred loophole,” which is to do “other tasks assigned to you from time to time.”
However, I profoundly believe that the core of what it means to be a priest is not in the job description, spoken or unspoken. What happens when a priest retires? Or becomes incapacitated? What is a priest who is not officially functioning as such? You might think it strange when I focus on that at the beginning of your ordained ministry, but I profoundly believe that this comes first. Here is where the real heart of what it means to be a priest really gets kicked up a notch, because where what a priest does is sometimes important, where priesthood deeply dwells is in passionate relationship with the Holy One in community. “As you did it to the least of these,” says Jesus, “you did it to me.” A priest, above all, is one who offers herself to serving the Holy One in every way. Whatever you do, you do in the name of Christ. Whoever you serve, you serve Christ. What might the church look like if we actually believed that?
Remember back in your studies about ancient priests as being the only ones who could go into the Holy of Holies. Throughout the centuries a priest is “one who may approach God.” The thing is, since Jesus, that access is given to all God’s people. By that understanding every person in this room is a priest! Our integrity as Christians grows from our readiness to actually do so: approach God: in prayer, in service, in the work of love. What makes us faithful and holy is not vestments, but prayerfulness. So the priesthood to which we ordain you today begins with the priesthood of your baptism. It’s why the color for this ceremony is white, the liturgical color of baptism. I wish the church would strike the term “to raise up for ordination” from its speech.
2There is no “up!” If we have four equal orders of ministry: laity, bishops, deacons and priests, then we have four equal orders, each discerned individually. There is no “up.”
Here I offer you five images to guide your priesthood. These are not dependent on having a job, wearing a collar, or even standing at the altar. The first image is the gift of Presence: the undefended, humble, watchful, deeply listening presence of love. Whether you are hearing a confession or waiting in line at the grocery store there should be no difference in your demeanor toward others. Let your heart be attentive, prayerful, and compassionate to all.
The second image after Presence is that of a cracked vessel. I promise you, you will fail at this many times. Isn’t that wonderful?! You are not perfect! You never will be! So get over yourself wearing those vestments! Only God’s grace matters! It’s not about us at all! You may ordained, but by the grace and mercy of God, let that make you only more human, not more perfect. It is your flawed humanity which will allow people to connect and to trust you. That’s why this [ ] is the most important gesture of the Eucharist. It speaks this truth.
A third image is that as chief liturgical poo bah, you will be the leader of the dance. Don’t think NYC Ballet here with memorized precise steps and pink tutus; think King David, scandalously clad only in his ephod (look it up!), making up the steps as he goes along, dancing for sheer joy before the Ark of the Lord. That is the right image! Here you need to be willing to play the fool, the one who might mess it up, get it wrong. I have forgotten to put wine in the chalice, forgotten the Lord’s Prayer, preached on the wrong lessons, and in my first Mass I couldn’t for the life of me find the Proper Preface, so I made it up – with the bishop sitting in the front pew! And you know what? Jesus is still risen, the church is still there, and the kingdom of God is still among us! Each time you preside at Eucharist, let the joy flow. You should be most real, most vulnerable when your arms are in the air. So, Nancy, if you ever find yourself worrying about making a liturgical mistake, take off your tutu and put on your ephod. (That would make an awesome bumpersticker!)
A fourth image I would offer is that of Living Word. You are an expert in neurology and the brain. You know what happens when we speak, when we seek the right word, the proper word, the living word which leaps from person to person and sets our commonality ablaze with life and connection. How wonderful that as a neurologist you will be using words to preach about the Word of Life by whom all things were created and have their being! You know that words matter. Words can tear down and build up; words can drive swords into hearts and heal the wounds. Be careful with your words, Nancy. Use them for life. Use them for healing.
Another image of priesthood I would offer is one I learned from the artist Meinrad Craighead. She said that priests and artists share one quality: both “can see in the dark.” I love that. I’m not talking about super-powers, but about the capacity to look deeply through what is ordinary and mundane and see the holy within. William Blake writes: “To see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower; to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” To see Christ in bread, in wine, in the angry parishioner before you, in the broken person in your office, in the politician you truly disdain, and yes, in your own bathroom mirror is priestly work indeed. It helps us live into Matthew 25 about doing unto Christ as we do unto others. And as we do unto ourselves, I might add. This is the core of priesthood: see the Holy in the ordinary, the shabby, the mundane, the tired, as well as what is newly forming, resurrecting.
So here’s the quiz – have you been paying attention? Five images to enliven the priest within you which lives and moves and has being underneath all the functioning pieces: A priest is one whose central gift rests with Presence. A priest is one who knows and accepts the cracked vessel which is her or his entire life. A priest is the leader of the dance, the fool, the one who can be naked in vulnerability and joy. A priest is one who allows his or her words to be living things, soaring on the wings of silence, trusting the spirit to bring life and healing to others. And then a priest is also one who sees in the dark, who knows in his toes that the whole world is God’s and all who dwell within it!!
One more image rises in me for you, Nancy. We have joked about how you’re not 30 any more. Or 40. Or 50. Or 60. Or – I’ll stop there. That means you will be an Elder-priest. An Elder is the one who carries relational wisdom, who knows how it all works together for the good of the community, who trusts the process of the universe. An Elder has been through enough suffering to know that love will always be stronger than death. An Elder is one who has experienced enough loss to know in every cell of her being that nothing is forever, nothing is permanent, nobody will be there always; that only the Holy One does not vanish like morning mist. People die. Kingdoms rise and fall. Governments topple like high-rises. Even stars die. The church changes. This is the way of things. As an elder priest you know this in your bones, and you will hone that in your faithful practice of contemplative prayer. Silence and calm waiting will allow you to trust the slow work of God in changing times, and to offer what is ancient and eternal in the midst of “the changes and chances of life.” That is the gift of elder-priests.
So, this day is come! This hour is come! It continues what has always been – you have been priest from before the dawn of time. Here we make sacramentally true what haas always been true. AND what we do here changes everything. The Gospel you have chosen for today says there is no going back to the before time. What you give yourself to today carries you for the rest of your life.
Nancy, please stand. Here in this place at this appointed hour I charge you to be true to the invitation of this day. I charge you to protect your vocation. Protect it with your prayerfulness, protect it by doing your inner work, protect it by caring for the Christ within you as you will the Christ in everyone else. May the Holy One bless you and make you a blessing. Amen.