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Petertide ordinations and the rite of anointing

by
08 July 2009

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From the Revd David Runcorn

Sir, — For the past 12 years, I have been annually involved in preparing ordinands for the beginning of ordained ministry — leading college leavers’ courses and ordination retreats, and running a diocesan induction programme for the newly ordained.

This year, I have just accom­panied 90 ordinands through the process — one group through a college leavers’ course and the other through an ordination retreat. It is always an honour and very exciting to see the quality of faith and com­mit­ment among those entering ordained ministry. But every year I ask myself: who ever decided that this was the best date to ordain people?

In ways I have come to expect, many I have met are plainly tired with the effort of finishing demand­ing training courses, managing to move house, and honouring the demands of family transition. A significant number have not man­aged to complete course work before ordination. In my experience, this is a very difficult time to ask people to focus on retreat and ordination, whatever their home circumstances.

Single people need just as much transitional time for their own setting up home and preparing for new life and ministry. Even OLMs and NSMs, while not physically relocating, often report how sur­prised they are by the spiritual and emotional demands of this time. It has a unique spiritual intensity — and rightly so: this is holy ground.

The alternative would be to license ordinands as stipendiary lay parish workers from, say, 1 July. Induction into parish life and ministry continues as it does now — but the ordination service and retreat can then follow in September when all concerned will be much better focused and prepared for what they are doing. (Rochester have been doing this for a number of years, and all credit to them.)

Petertide ordinations are an unmerciful demand to place on people whom we then enthusi­astically promise to support with our gratitude and prayers. For pastoral, professional, and spiritual reasons, a change is long overdue.

DAVID RUNCORN
35 Church Street, Littleover
Derby DE23 6GF

From the Principal of the West of England Ministerial Training Course

Sir, — We are just coming to the end of the main ordination season, a time when we rejoice to see women and men ordained as deacons and priests in the Church of God. This year, most unusually, and by a fortunate combination of diocesan ordination dates, I am able to attend no fewer than five services where our students are being ordained.

I have only recently reflected, however, on a practice that seems to be spreading throughout the Church of England: that of anoint­ing the hands of the newly ordained priests. This was an option in Gloucester diocese when I was first appointed diocesan director of ordinands (my former appoint­ment), and I regarded it as a pleas­ing option, but by no means essen­tial (although nearly all received it). The anointing was done without any scripted words (I think the Bishop may have said something sotto voce).

Words are, however, prescribed in the instructions in the Common Worship Ordinal: “May God, who anointed the Christ with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, anoint and empower you to reconcile and bless his people.”

I suggest that this is a doctrinal innovation and inconsistent with Anglican theology as received, and with the Ordinal of 1662 (our legal doctrinal basis). And why only the hands — are they so special? Why not the tongue, the feet, the eyes, etc.?

A charming piece of liturgy it may be, but the bishop has just invoked the Holy Spirit to come down upon the candidate “for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God”, and has laid hands on him or her to that purpose. The words at the anointing suggest that something needs to be added to the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands to render the new priest able to absolve and give a blessing.

This is not what, I presume, was intended, and I can only assume that it is a case of over-enthusiastic liturgical activity that has not been fully thought through. At best, it is unnecessary, at worst a dilution of the theology of ordination.

As this is an option (and only appears in the notes), had reserva­tions been raised beforehand? It seems to me to be a significant change in our theology of ordina­tion. I wonder if this has occurred to anyone else and if practice differs widely across dioceses.

MIKE PARSONS
West of England Ministerial
Training Course
University of Gloucestershire
Francis Close Hall
Swindon Road
Cheltenham GL50 4AZ

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