I'm a priest now!
As of the morning of last Saturday, October 14th, according to apostolic usage, I have been - and I quote - “Entrusted with the Office of Word and Sacrament in the one holy catholic church by the laying on of hands and by prayer.”
That was the charge that Bishop Claire Burkat of the ELCA spoke as she pressed both hands into the sides of my head (along with several other priests and ministers who laid hands on my shoulders).
Yes, friends... Yours truly has been ordained as a Lutheran priest.
It was the day of the solar eclipse. And it happened at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church and retreat house - the church of my brother-from-another-mother, Fr. Vincent Pizzuto, in Pt. Reyes National Forest just north of San Francisco (I’ve raved about him and his church many times on this blog).
Being ordained as an ELCA Lutheran in an Episcopal parish was an ecumenical feat. Hoops were jumped through. Letters from Bishops bounced back and forth. But wow, was it worth it. I ugly-cried for a good part of the ceremony (as did a lot of others). It was one of the most touching days of my life, and it has left an ontological mark on my soul.
On the ‘priest’ thing
In my last announcement (so many announcements lately!), I said that I had become an official ‘pastor.’ Though I’ve been doing pastoral work for many years, I OFFICIALLY received the job title of ‘pastor’ when Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos, CA called me as their full-time pastor.
I see it this way (and no, not everyone agrees)…
The role of a ‘pastor’ has to do with the horizontal realm (person-to-person). One cannot be a pastor to oneself. A pastor needs other humans to - well - pastor. The role of a pastor is a vocational one where we walk with and minister to others. When I retire to my cabin in the Berkshires1, I will no longer be (officially) a pastor. I will be a ‘retired pastor.’ One does not have to be ordained to be a pastor. Anyone can pastor or minister to others. I see the word ‘pastor’ as being more of a verb than a noun.
However… The role of a priest has to do with the vertical realm (God-to-human). It is more of a noun than a verb. No, it doesn’t make me any holier than thou (God, no). It’s just that I have been set aside to administer Christ’s Sacraments to others. It is not a position of elite patriarchy, it is a humbled role of deep service. During my ordination, when Bishop Claire Burkat laid hands on my head, the gathered clergy laid hands on my shoulders, and all of my family and friends who were gathered held up their open hands in blessing, I was granted a priestly function. As they say, “Once ordained, always ordained.” I will still be a priest in my retirement cabin deep in the Berkshires.
A little background on this might be due here (and I am no church historian by any stretch)…
Elsewhere in the world (particularly in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia), Lutheran ministers are called priests. They have maintained an episcopal form of apostolic succession (the laying on of hands that supposedly stretches back to the apostles of Jesus) and have maintained a more traditional and sacramental way of carrying out their work. However, in this country, the Lutheran church stepped aside from apostolic succession and the historic episcopate. It wasn’t until 1999, when the ELCA (the largest Lutheran denomination in the US) joined in full communion with our siblings in The Episcopal Church, that we picked it back up and returned to the apostolic fold.
There are some Lutherans who are not happy about this. Others are delighted (including me).2 Either way, this is not my arena to enter that debate.
All I know is that, in my denomination of the ELCA, until last Saturday, I was not allowed to hold up the bread and wine and say those hallowed words of Jesus that we echo during the Eucharist that preclude, “Take and eat; this is my body (and blood), given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
I’ve been able to preach and teach since I started seminary. People have called me a pastor, even when I was an intern two years ago.3 But proclaiming those words that Jesus shared with his fumbling friends before they betrayed him has been off-limits until the bishop’s hands fell and that charge was given.
The ‘words of institution’ are not mine.
They are directly from God enfleshed -
the God of the cosmos and the quark -
revealed and embodied in Jesus the Christ.
I have merely been vetted by a good number of people over a stretch of 5-6 years to be entrusted to mediate them to others. It is a priestly function. So, in closing…
It is the most humbling privilege of my life
to give the radically scandalous
for-you-ness of Jesus
- body and blood
broken and shed
for you -
to each and every sinner and stumbler
who kneels on the communion rail before me
and whom I follow in receiving
as a fellow sinner and stumbler myself
at the end of the meal.
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I believe there is something to those laying on of hands. And I do love that we are now tied in with the ancient and global church.
And let me say… Letting an intern seminarian preach is bold. It’s like giving a rookie cop free reign to use their Glock however they wish without lawful restriction before they even graduate from the Academy. I digress.