Dear Ernest,

Today you will be ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. To many people this will no doubt seem a curious step in your life.

You are connecting yourself to an institution which for the majority of people is at best an irrelevant anachronism that serves no useful purpose in the human community.  At worst, you are choosing to enter into leadership in an organization that is frequently viewed as an active force for oppression and injustice.

These are difficult times for any institution. It is hard to work in the medical industrial pharmaceutical complex; schools and universities struggle; governments are seldom popular; financial institutions face international pressures and tensions that do not seem to be susceptible of easy resolution.

It is not hard to understand why so many people choose to walk away from churches. Churches are expendable.

We cannot do without hospitals, banks, schools, or governments. But today you are connecting yourself more deeply to an entirely dispensable frill. The church is an eccentric extra for the few people who still believe that the attempt to build spiritual community remains a worthwhile endeavour.

The institution in which today you will be ordained as a priest is a deeply confused and confusing community. There is no obvious program to enable our church to offer a compelling vision of God. It is difficult to know how to bear witness to the deeper realities of life in a way that might find a receptive audience in our current cultural context. There are so many forces that make society today unreceptive to the subtle realm of the Spirit.

The struggles of the church are no doubt in part a reflection of the prevailing culture of our day. But we in the church must share a large part of the blame. There is no doubt we are a flawed and a wounded institution. We have done harm, have failed to listen carefully, have been arrogant and unresponsive to the prevailing culture. Our failures are often in plain view.

But perhaps the wounds we see in our church should not surprise or discourage us. We are a community that forms around a wounded Messiah. We gather around a broken piece of bread. We acknowledge every time we meet that we are flawed human beings. We are at our best when we bear our scars honestly and acknowledge our brokenness boldly.

As a priest in this imperfect church, you will stand before the community holding bread in your hands. You will break this bread as a sign of the brokenness of the world. You will acknowledge over and over, that church is a community of flawed beings. We are united in our experience of failure. None of us lives up to the fullness of our humanity as beings created in the image of God.

But, we do not stop with the awareness of our brokenness. The Eucharistic bread you break as a priest is the bread of Christ.  Jesus’ death tells us that, in order to be shared, the bread that is life must be broken.

It is in the breaking that we discover the wholeness of God’s love.  As we acknowledge our weakness we are empowered to live out of that wholeness that is God’s presence in our lives.

This is why Paul could write

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.    (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Paul did not imagine a perfect harmonious church in which no one ever got hurt or felt let down or betrayed. Paul understood that any human community would always be riddled with imperfections. Paul understood that the church would be made up of people like you and like me. Paul knew that when we struggle to form spiritual community we always bring our sharp edges. He knew that the broken bits of our being would always create conflict.

But, Paul also understood that there is a deeper reality in Christ, and he chose to live out of that deeper reality.

A priest is not a slightly more perfect manifestation of Christ’s presence than anyone else. A priest is not a more effective, dynamic, committed disciple of Christ than the rest of the merely mortal Christian community.

A priest is a sacrament of the brokenness that will always afflict the surface of life. But, at the same time, a priest is an icon of depth. As a priest, you stand within the community to call us back to the deeper reality of who we are. You stand before the community as a sign that there is always something more than appears on the surface.

As you fulfill your function as a priest in the church, may you always find within yourself the ability to rest in the deep stillness. May you continue to trust in that steady faithful unchanging force of Life Who flows beneath the conflicts and turmoils that will always trouble the surface of every community of human beings. May you know the Wholeness that sustains this magical miracle of life in the midst of the shards of our broken lives.

May God bless and encourage you in this holy calling.