A point of personal privilege, dear readers, if anyone is still reading after our first Epiphany-geek-fest overload earlier today. Today is my 28th anniversary of ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. I had desired ordination during Advent but the Bishop’s earliest convenience was January, so I chose to be ordained on this sacred festival of Epiphany. That night culminated some 6 to 7 years of intense preparation, and continued a long family tradition I was quite unaware of at the time. I was ordained in Saint John Chrysostom Episcopal Church in Applewood, a bedroom Front Range community wedged in-between Lakewood, Wheat Ridge and Golden. You know it best by the sound barrier wall along the western side of I-70 just past the 32nd Street/Youngfield exit, the exit more popularly known in these parts as the Applejacks Liquor Mart exit.
The Right Reverend Jerry Winterrowd ordained me for my own Bishop John Howe, unable to make the trip from Orlando in winter. Jerry’s hands shook as he laid them upon my head and prayed the Holy Spirit right into me. My Rector and mentor the Reverend Gerald Anderson served the altar, as did the Reverend Robert Franken, Parish Deacon, my dear friend and life mentor who many of you have met over the years. Gerry Anderson tragically died just two years later, a devastating loss to the Episcopal Church. The Reverend Doctor Judith McDaniel traveled from Alexandria, Virginia, to be my preacher. Judith was my preaching professor at Virginia Seminary the day I walked into her class completely unprepared to preach the sermon she demanded I preach; I had simply forgotten that was my day. I asked her for two minutes to prepare, then preached a sermon with absolutely no notes, my first, and received a high grade for the effort. Judith said afterwards she would come preach my ordination anywhere, and she did! Her sermon outlined a pre-planned surprise during a famous orchestral performance as a violinist was to burst out from the side of the stage playing a discordant note. He had to fight his way through a shocked usher who wasn’t aware of the unorthodox plan. The usher said, “You idiot, you can’t go play your instrument just like that, don’t you know they’re in the middle of a concert?!” The violinist drew himself up, straightened his tuxedo coat, and indignantly replied, “Yes I know. I’m just playing another part!” And out he went. Judith challenged me to be that surprise violinist as a priest in this church, and I have tried to do exactly that all these years, performing with familiar instruments a concert no one expects. My parents and Julie’s parents travelled to attend, the only time after our wedding the four of them were together. It was one of the singular honors of my life short of marriage and being a father of daughters.
But the most important congregants weren’t there that night. That’s all of you. I’ve come to understand that priests are priestly only when we are serving you. Congregations need clerics and by God do clergy need their congregations. We balance each other, and maybe every once in a great while, compliment each other. I’ve learned so much for you and am so indebted in gratitude to you for the particular honor of serving you all these years. Ordination does not make one more holy; I’ve often said the church frequently ordains the ones who need the most help, like me. Ordination makes one more available and more focused upon those other than ourselves. You have crafted, shaped, inspired, humbled and molded me into the priest I am today. You’ve been so patient with all of my mistakes, my conceits and my shortcomings. I wanted to thank you, all of you, on such a special day for the global church and also for me. It’s our anniversary, together!