I’ll try and say something about the amazing journey of the past week.
Despite my gloomy prognostications about the impossibility of retreating successfully when I could virtually see home from the retreat house gardens (Glenfall is actually in my very own parish), I managed to disengage from all that was happening here and settle into God without too much drama.Lovely to be there with many of those I'd trained alongside, and to make new connections too. I'm going to enjoy having finker as my neighbour, I know.
The preparation time was made infinitely easier by the way our Bishop had planned the worship. Having a serious liturgist as your diocesan is undoubtedly a nightmare if you're preparing for a deanery confirmation, but in this context it was a real blessing. Things happened just when you felt you needed them most. My first experience of a formal liturgy of healing/anointing was awesome: God moved some fairly huge loads of rubbish I’d been carrying round for far too long, leaving me feeling so much lighter and cleaner, if a little raw at first.
Foot washing was rather powerful too…+ M is not one for token gestures. Both feet were washed…not just dripped over, but definitely washed…with great care and gentleness. The Bish managed to be with us for most of the retreat, which, together with the care of our new DDO/CME officer made us feel very safe. Some very important relationship-building went on, I’m sure of that.
Then, to the Cathedral.
Words are inadequate, really, but I loved every minute in an awe-struck, "who-am-I-in-all-this?" sort of way. There is an incredible sense of gift about it all, and I'm overwhelmed with the utter joy of it. After the laying on of hands, + M anointed our hands, which felt like the most powerful thing that's been done for me, ever. It has somehow turned them into a sacramental sign in themselves, in that whatever I do, I use them and am reminded of my priesthood, a non-negotiable part of the person I now am. It meant that on Sunday, when I stood at the altar saying those HUGE things, I could look at my hands and remember the Grace that had been prayed down on me. It operated in a fairly major way, I have to say. During pre-ordination walk throughs of the service, I completely failed to articulate the words of absolution,-just couldn’t get them out at all,- and even after I’d sought help with this during the retreat, could only manage a feeble whisper. I wondered whether this proof of inadequacy would provide all the evidence needed for those who already doubted the validity of my orders,-but on the day God turned up and said them for me, loud and clear, so I was included in the experience, pardoned and delivered.
Nothing had prepared me for the weight of the words, nor for their absolute reality. What’s more, those wonderful Sacramental things that I did for the first time on Sunday are now in a mysterious way, part of what I am for. At the end of the service we sang “And can it be?” and I thought the whole church might take off. So many friends, living and departed were involved in that singing….and in the whole journey to this weekend. Throughout the Eucharist I carried in my pocket a small and infinitely precious “pebble” engraved with a dove and the word"Hope", an ordination gift from a friend who has probably done more to shape my vocation than anyone else on the planet.
Thank you for being there, all of you…those who made it to the Cathedral (Stu, you are a hero), those who made it to St Mary’s, those who sent love and prayed where they were.
Any day now, I expect harsh reality will intervene and this sense of bliss will diminish…but... I’ll still have my hands.