THE ordination season is upon us, and deacons-to-be are experimenting with their new cassocks, and perhaps gingerly trying on their clerical shirts in front of the mirror. They will have been told that black trainers will absolutely not do for an ordination — and, I would add, girlie floral dresses with slip-in clerical collars.
Most deacons-to-be will be taken away on retreat, and kept secure in isolation until they are wheeled back for the cathedral service. Ordination retreats are unlike others because they are more about containment than piety, and are often interrupted.
When I was ordained deacon, the rehearsal for the cathedral service took place in the middle of the retreat, and candidates were taken out one by one to have a formal interview with the diocesan bishop.
I was expecting a gentle pastoral conversation with the bishop. I had known him since he was himself a deacon, and he had seemed pleased that I was to serve in his diocese. So we chatted amicably for a while. Then suddenly he fired a question: what was my interpretation of Article VI?
I had no idea what Article VI was, and this produced an episcopal frown, the first indication that I was in a spot of bother. Surely I recognised “Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation”? Ah, yes, now you mention it; so I waffled on for a bit, only then to receive an unexpected warning that I was to restrain my views on certain controversial matters, in particular on Issues in Human Sexuality.
Some years earlier, I had written a short piece — I think it was for the journal Theology — on the weird contradiction by which Issues recognised same-sex relations among lay people, but banned them for the clergy.
I had mildly suggested that this brought something new into Anglican polity — never a good idea for those of a traditionalist temperament. So I was warned that if I taught this sort of stuff, I would be disciplined. Chastened, I returned to the retreat, wondering what on earth I had let myself in for.
The following year, we went through the whole thing again, in preparation for priesthood. This time, however, there were no awkward questions, and no rebukes.
Back at the retreat house, I was delighted to find that a present had arrived, for me and two other ordinands from Westcott House. The Anglo-Catholic Ordination Retreat Survival Kit contained a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, a large bottle of tonic water, a lemon, a blue candle, and a postcard of Our Lady of Walsingham. Very gratefully received it was, too.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.