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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Renewal of Ordination Vows

It happens every Tuesday in Holy Week, whether we need to or not.

The clergy in the Diocese of Newark will gather at the Cathedral at 11 AM. We will listen to the lessons, hear the gospel proclaimed and hopefully, be inspired by to two clergy - one who is fairly newly ordained, the other nearing retirement - preach on the theology and spirituality, the challenges and joys of ordained life.

We'll then renew our ordination vows - first the deacons, then the priests, then, the bishop. He'll bless the oils for baptism and healing from which we'll be able to replenish our parochial supplies and then together, we'll celebrate Eucharist.

Lunch will be served at the offices of NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center), where the Cathedral offices and Parish Hall are located. The Bishop will report on the House of Bishop's meeting during lunch and then, soon enough, it will be time to take our leave.

I've been in this diocese since 1991 and I've never missed one of these days. To be truthful, I'm not sure why.

I don't believe in "renewal" of vows - well, not every year. Perhaps on a major celebration - like, say, the 25th or 50th or something. But, every year? Pretty silly, if you ask me.

Perhaps because it sometimes feels like a last vestige of the way 'the old boy network' used to work. Or, perhaps because there's this queasy feeling that this is a possible manifestation of clericalism, fueled by low self esteem or narcissism which often runs rampant in the ranks of the ordained.

Oh, there have been some really stellar sermons preached - and more than a few clunkers. The music is usually good. There's nothing like a cathedral full of clergy singing at full-tilt.

Except, perhaps, a church full of LGBT people singing praise to the God of our salvation at the Triennial Integrity Eucharist.

And, to be truthful, my most serious vocational crisis always come when I'm in a room filled with other clergy. At some point, the following thought usually crosses my mind: "Dear Lord, what's a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?"

It's all "hail fellow, well met" when you know damn well that some of these boys are hanging on by threads. Six months from now, someone will have had a heart attack or their wife will have left them, or their church will have suffered a major financial loss that they knew was coming. But today it will be, "Fine. Fine. Doin' just fine. Great to see you. Call me, we'll have to have coffee or lunch and catch up."

And, we never will, of course.

I think that's the worst part of the day.

So, why do I keep going back? I'm really not sure.

Perhaps I'm simply a creature of habit. Perhaps I have more loyalty than intellect. Perhaps I'm still "the best little girl in the whole world" I was brought up to be and simply do what's expected of me (stop laughing).

Perhaps enough of all that is true, and maybe, just maybe, enough good happens, once a year, to make me go back again. And, again.

Perhaps it is because the liturgy and ritual are powerful enough, in and of themselves, to be compelling. Something happens when we gather together to break bread. Something that is more powerful than our most passionately held assumptions and biases. Something that is transformative - even if only subtly, gently - that renews the spirit despite our resistance.

Besides, it's only once a year.

Every Tuesday in Holy Week, whether we need it or not.


As my sainted grandmother - she who I accompanied on our daily morning walk to Eucharist - would say, "Oh, the things we do for Jesus."

Whether He needs it or not.


Elisabeth said...


Margaret said...

Yep. Thassa all I can say...

Fr Craig said...

I love it, too. as much as anything it is done here in glorious 'high' church fashion - I can't use incense in my little church! It is wonderful to worship in peace for a change. Our bishop is a fine musician and always has something unique for us. And, after 3.5 years in this diocese, I still don't know many of the clergy and I crave collegiality.

Lisa Fox said...

But, Elizabeth, lay people generally renew our baptismal vows several times a year -- at baptisms and (even when no baptisms are done) the Easter Vigil, the day of Pentecost, All Saint’s Day or the Sunday following, and the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. So why not an annual renewal of clergy vows?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're wrong Lisa. All Christians - lay and ordained - renew our baptismal vows 4-5 times a year. Those are WAAAAYYYY more important than ordination vows. Indeed, without our Baptismal vows, our vows of ordination would be pretty meaningless.

No one I know renews their marriage vows once a year - not in a big gathering. I suppose an argument could be made that, given the divorce rate, that might not be a bad idea.

I don't see clergy leaving the fold. Indeed, I see more folk wanting to be ordained than we have positions to be filled.

I think a yearly renewal of ordination vows is not a bad thing. It's not necessary for my salvation.

I sometimes need a daily reminder of my baptismal vows - mostly, because I am ordaine.

Lisa Fox said...

Well ... you certainly have a way of getting my attention. Not many folks begin with "You're wrong, Lisa."

I gather you take my point about our renewal of our baptismal covenants. And I think I understand your saying that's the foundational one.

Similarly, I hear what you're saying about your priestly vows. And about the vows of married persons. I get that.

I'll end with this: If I had made such a huge decision to become a priest in this church, with others concurring, I think I would welcome an annual opportunity to renew that commitment.

But I know that's just me. And I do understand that there are some different issues at play for you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I thought that would getcha (wink).

It's not the renewal part of the ordination vows that gets me. After a Really Bad day in the Vineyards of the Lord, I often read over my baptismal and ordination vows. Or, if I'm about to confront a difficult situation or go into a difficult meeting.

It's the annual ritual of being in a Cathedral full of clergy at a command performance during Holy Week. One person said it very well "Too much 'priest-osterone'". Yup, that does it for me.

Lisa Fox said...

I do understand that part of your post, Elizabeth. While I might have welcomed the charge to renew my vows, I, too, would have been pissed by the blatant sexism of the service.

Sorry I only focused on half of the issue.

Andrew Gerns said...

I don't the practice on your side of the Delaware, Elizabeth, but over here the Chrism Mass with the Renewal of Vows happens not in Holy Week but a week earlier. While it is still in the middle of weekday, a specific invitation is made for laity to attend and come to the meal afterward. I announce this in all the usual ways and this meant that not only did eight or nine people from my parish come to take part, but that well over half if not two-thirds the congregation are laity from several parishes. This not only dilutes the "priest-osterone" but also puts the event in proper context.