On Sunday, I will be installed as the rector of Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley, Arizona. This is my twentieth year in ordained ministry – if you count my Southern Baptist ordination.
The Bishop will come and read a letter of institution and then, because this church is cool, he will confirm five teenagers and an adult before I receive the signs of my vocation and ministry in this place.
We are an ancient church, and so we sometimes do things in an ancient way. We kneel and bow, we wear layers of fabric, some of it embroidered, and we speak to each other in prescripted ways. Watching the installation/ordination of a bishop a few years ago in a gymnasium, it all looked so preposterous. On Sunday we will be in a sanctuary that will make it feel far less so.
Yet it is preposterous isn’t it? It is an odd thing to do things this way in an age when we could tweet out an announcement and make it official. We could just say, “it is so,” and it would be so. I know a lot of pragmatists who would vote for that.
But the ritual does something, doesn’t it? I mean, I don’t think that God needs the ritual. We need it. We need the movement and the spelling out of roles and responsibilities, a community entering into vowed relationship with a leader in a way that spells out somethings about how we wish to be together and what our roles are in that being together.
This is neither of our first marriages. This congregation has had strong leaders before me and will have more long after me. I have led other communities, and there is no guaranty that this will be my last one. (I am still not too old.) But here we agree to enter into vowed relationship, a covenant of ministry and service.
Like a marriage or a baptism, we are making promises and trading symbols. A Bible, prayer book, stole, water, bread, wine. I promise to proclaim the Gospel again to them, and I hope that they will hear it and see it in my life. I promise to pastor them and lead them in sacramental moments. And I do all of this under their eyes and the bishop’s eyes.
We do all of this before God. I have come to take more seriously over the years the power of promises and vows. They have the power to shape and transform our lives in their keeping. Yes, we all fall short of them. But we stand back up, and begin again.
We are promising on Sunday, we these newly confirmed, to keep our baptismal covenant, to be ambassadors for another country, where peace and justice are a way of life, where God-in-Jesus is king, and where we treat every human being as a brother or sister, fellow heirs of Creation and caretakers of the world. It is a strange job to be a church, and a strange job to be the pastor of one.
Pray for us on Sunday and come join us if you can. It will be glorious and odd, ancient ritual in a contemporary world. If you come a little early, we can practice bowing together.