Thursday, 29 December 2011

Ministry of Another Kind

The esteemed editor of theSt, John's  Banner suggested I write an article reflecting on what led me to my calling to the demanding ministry of Anglican priest after “so many years in a secure non-controversial Government position” as he so succinctly put it.   Now I wouldn’t necessarily describe my time with the Ontario Civil Service that way but let’s put that aside for another discussion.

In that statement there is an assumption that the life of a civil servant is very different from that of an ordained minister, in this case a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada.  To start, if I was to compare the two careers (or callings), I would have to say it is more of a contrast than a comparison.  In describing it I have noted that I went from the Ministry of Transportation to a ministry of a very different kind.  Beyond that there wouldn’t seem to be much in common for the two occupations or in the case of ordained ministry, vocation.  

However, on reflection I have also noted in the past – and not so distant past – that one of the aspect about being a priest in the Diocese of Huron is that the Diocese is every bit as much a bureaucracy as the provincial government.  This came as something of a surprize to me being somewhat na├»ve about Anglican churchland when I was ordained even at my at my advance years.  Now this is of course should not have been that much of a surprize.  The two organizations are after all large institutions and as such need structure and rules, cannon laws and regulations, procedures and policies and under which to operate in the world – at least until God’s Kingdom is established in this world.

Be that as it may, the question I was asked to address is how did I come to be a priest after a life working in a very different situation?  Reflecting on this the first thing that came to mind was the Laurel and Hardey quote, in this case addressed to God, “Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into.”   Sometimes I do wonder what God had in mind when I responded to the call which had been with me lurking somewhere in the background for much of my adult life.  When I was growing up physically (I hope I’m still growing up emotionally and spiritually), I always resisted the idea of God calling people.  I didn’t believe that God did that any more – if he ever did.  The voice in the burning bush or on the road to Damascus didn’t seem to be realistic in today’s world.  I certainly had never heard God talking to me that way.  And He (or She) has not that I am aware of since.  Now this may be a case of selective hearing which is a fault that my wife Lorna accuses me of from time to time.  However, in any case the Road to Damascus experience never came. 
In my case God seemed to be speaking to me in the mode of nagging rather than proclamation from on high.  Now this is not nearly as dramatic or he stuff of legend but who I am to question God’s ways.   And as some people in my life may attest it does work with me.  I have been involved in church all my life in many different ways and many different forms.  However, church has always been a constant regardless of any other things that were going on in my life.  I had felt the pull towards ordained ministry earlier in my life many, many years ago when I was in my thirties.  However, I eventually resisted that pull as life got in the way, as it sometimes does, with what God intends for us.  

However, God did not give up on me and seemed to know what S/He was doing after all.  Another line of communication for God opened up when I became aware of an opportunity to take an introductory course in Biblical Studies at Huron University College.  I had been thinking for a while of taking some religious studies courses, only for interest of course.  The introductory Biblical Studies course was offered on Saturday morning so it appeared to be a perfect opportunity.  It is interesting to note that I believe this was the first and last time that it was ever offered at that time slot (very sneaky of you God).

I registered for the course as a ‘Special Student’ (I always enjoyed being designated as such because after all I was, in my mind at least, very special).   Well, that hooked me or perhaps I should say that God hooked me again.  Perhaps God can be seen as a fisher of men and women and children as well as making disciples who are to do fulfill that role.  I spent the next few years leading up to my retirement from that first ministry (of Transportation) taking courses when my schedule allowed.   At this point I was seriously playing with the idea of leaving my beloved ‘special student” category and becoming a full-fledged M. Div. student with the intent to be ordained.   However, I was in part waiting for that ‘Road to Damascus’ experience where God would speak to me from high and tell me that I was being called and better answer positively this time.  However, as I noted above there did not appear to be any chance of that happening.  After some reflection I decided that the only way to tell if I should be on the journey to ordination was to take the first – or perhaps I should say - the next step along that road.  

Once I was on that road I discovered the many interesting and sometimes challenging stops along the way such as biblical Greek and  ACPO and CPE and Diocesan rules and regulations (reminiscent of that other Ministry in some ways but in others very different).  In all that I have concluded that God did know what he was doing and I’m certainly glad S/He didn’t give up on me and did not stop nagging until I capitulated.