On Sunday 17 June 2018 at St. Philip, Oak Bay, UVic Chaplain Ruth Dantzer preached a sermon in which she spoke about the journey she has taken towards her ordination that will take place at Christ Church Cathedral on Friday 29 June.

With Ruth’s permission here is the manuscript version of her sermon:

Mark 4:26-34 and 1 John 3:16-24

Sermon on Vocation, June 17th 2018, St. Philip

Christopher asked if I would share a little of my journey, as I have navigated my way through a discernment process towards ordination.  My family and I live up in Shawnigan Lake, and before discovering St. Philip we attended a couple of the parishes up in the Cowichan Valley. We were not able to find a church that was a fit for us, especially in relation to the genuine acceptance of children’s voices in the service.  When we came to St. Philip for the first time a couple of years ago now, and we saw the lego table and the craft table at the back, we knew we had arrived home.  Since walking through the doors, we have all felt welcomed, and for this I am so grateful.  It was this feeling of belonging that also prompted me to formally discern whether or not I was called to ordained ministry.  My own discernment process had began some 15 years ago, but finding St. Philip was an integral step in my journey, that in the end, helped me to say yes to my call.

The readings today, both from 1 John and Mark are calling us all, as Christians, to step outside of our small, comfortable, familiar lives.  They are asking us to “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us”.  They are reminding us that the Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, that when sown becomes “the greatest of all shrubs”, that has the capacity to house and protect life.  We are told again and again that the kingdom of God is available to us.  Each of us.  But to realize this kingdom, we need to trust the love of God, we need to know the capacity of love that we have for one another, and we must take the leap into the dark and unfamiliar, to come out changed.

In order to come out changed, we must be willing to take on different forms, to transform.  In Mark verse 29, we are reminded that harvest time can be challenging, even sometimes painful: “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Transformation can be overwhelming because it requires us to shed the old, and leap into the new, from a seed to a tree, from the full grain to the harvest, from a chrysalis to a butterfly: each requires a letting go and a surrendering into the process, into God’s grace, and into the love that cradles us.  In this season of spring we are surrounded by growth, renewal of life, and flourishing abundance.   However with this birthing of new life there is also an element of chaos and unmanageability.  Weeds overtaking the garden can feel daunting and overwhelming.  Efforts to manage and control all the bursting life can be exhausting, and at a certain point, we need to let go and fall into the undercurrent of God.  As Christians, we have the most poignant example of this in the life of Jesus. 1 John reminds us that “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”.   As a result of Jesus giving up his own life, he was resurrected.  He surrendered to the will of God, passed through the darkness and came out into the light.

My life has recently had this quality of bursting forth, not being able to control the natural (and messy) unfolding of my life’s vocation.  As mentioned, I have been on the path of discernment for the last 15 years of my life.  I received a call in my early twenties to the priesthood but over the years this call has taken on a variety of different forms.  I have been called into service, participating in humanitarian aid organizations and projects around the world.  I have been called into the path of a contemplative, as both a participant and a leader of retreats and a teacher of meditation and other practices that help develop one’s inner spiritual life.  I have been called into chaplaincy, where I have supported people on their spiritual journeys in settings such as in a hospital, hospice, addiction treatment centre, and currently on a university campus.  Each of these callings have given me a ground to stand on that in turn have led me into the next expression of my vocation.  Each of these callings have led me to where I find myself today: on the threshold, just about to cross into my vocation as an ordained minister.

And so, today, I acknowledge that I have three vocations.  My vocation as a priest, my vocation as a mother, and my vocation as a wife.  I have been called into motherhood, walking with my children as they grow and I learn.  I have been called into marriage, with a loving partner and husband who has walked with me through each of my vocations.  Today is Father’s Day, a day where we honour Fatherhood and the things that we value about dads.  For me, today is a day where I honour the father of my own children.  My husband, Gabriel, has taught me so much in relation to each of my three vocations.  He has taught me how to be a better parent by slowing down.  Through example, he shows me how to meet my children where they are, doing the things that they enjoy best.  Odran and Iona, my two young children, are so skilled at simply ‘being’, and Gabriel has a special ability to “be” in this place of “being”.  In marriage, Gabriel has taught me to see things with a sense of humour.  Being in relationship can often be difficult, and Gabriel meets challenges with a willingness to go deep and work them out, but also he has a gift to not take things too seriously.  He does not ask that I change, but instead accepts me in my fullness, both the light and the dark.  In this space of unconditional acceptance, I am given the space to grow.  Gabriel has taught me so much about what it means to be a chaplain as he has been with me through my own spiritual journey, as a supportive presence and a listening ear.  He is skilled at not trying to fix my struggles, but rather to bear witness to them, and trust that I will come through it.  That I will transform.

Recently I attended The Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination (also known as ACPO for short).  This is a weekend gathering held at the Sorrento Centre in the Okanagan.  The ACPO weekend is where those people in the diocese who are on the discernment process appear before a panel of assessors to be interviewed about their call to ordained ministry.  This is the last formal step of the discernment process, whereby you are either recommended to proceed or not to proceed towards ordination.  Gabriel, along with Odran and Iona, accompanied me on the drive to the Sorrento Centre in the Okanagan.  On the way, we stopped to pick up a butterfly kit in Langley, so that Odran and Iona could have an up close experience with the various stages of the transformation of the butterfly.  We picked up teenie tiny larvae in plastic containers, that within a week had grown into rather large caterpillars, that then retreated into chrysalises and eventually emerged as butterflies.  When they emerged however it wasn’t a dramatic event, but rather they clung to the edges of their netted cage in utter stillness.  They remained in this state of quiet vulnerability for some time.  I imagine that going through such a radical transformation is somewhat groundless, overwhelming, and scary, feeling unprepared for the enormous task of flight that lies imminently ahead.

And so I return to own process through the journey of discernment.  People from this parish, namely Dan Aire for a time, Stacy McGee, Jennifer Sharlow, Sharon Richmond, and Christopher have acted as my parish discernment committee, walking with me this past year as I navigate my way through my call.  All the way along this discernment path I have hesitated and have wanted to retract.  I don’t feel prepared for the immense task of what it means to be a clergy member in the Anglican Church.  I can very easily give you a long list of all the ways that I don’t fit the mold and fill the role.  However, through this discernment process, what has become very clear is that if I choose not to proceed towards ordination, it would solely be out of fear.  It would be so much easier to stay and hide in my protective cocoon or my comfortable netted cage.  Instead, God is asking me, in ever so gentle a way, to say yes to this lifelong call, to take the leap, to spread my wings and to fly.

How we as a family came to St. Philip is through my involvement as a director on the board of the Contemplative Society, which Heather Page is the President and Christopher is a fellow board member.  I have been practicing Centering Prayer for about as long as I have been exploring a call to ordained ministry, for the last 15 years.  What the practice of Centering Prayer has given me more than anything is an awareness of the power of surrendering.  In the words of Father Thomas Keating, in this meditation practice, you are “consenting to the action and presence of God”, over and over again.  It is ultimately a training ground on how to let go of my own agenda, how to let go of my own plan, how to let go of my wish to control and to manage the chaos by myself.  Instead, in Centering Prayer, I turn it all over to God.  What I have found through my practice of this meditation discipline, is that very slowly, over the years, I have began to develop an ability to open to God, to remember that God can be accessed, and let God do the work.  Through these last couple years of formal discernment in the context of the Anglican Church, and most recently these last few months where things have moved incredibly fast along the discernment path, I have mustered the ability to be able to say yes.  I have turned the decision over to God, realizing that God is an ever-present undercurrent in my life, gently taking me where it is that I need to go next.  While I have surrendered in this way, I am still not without doubt and hesitation, and not without fear.

One of my assessors at the ACPO weekend, Rev. Al Carson, reminded me that throughout scripture Jesus sends out people and actually instructs them to go out unprepared.  In both Matthew and Luke there are several stories of Jesus sending out the 12 and instructing them to go unprepared for what is before them. Unprepared for their journey.  In Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus instructs to “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra shirt.” Jesus also acknowledges that those he sends out will end up in places where they will not be welcomed. The call of a Priest is unlike anything else.  It is not a call to strength.  It is a call to vulnerability.  It is a call to awareness and acknowledgment of my weaknesses.  It is not about how I have it together, but rather it is about being willing to go forth in my brokenness and do the work anyways.  The call to be a Priest is a call to greater dependence on God.  This goes against the current of our Western world, that reveres independence not dependence, that prefers upholding the illusion of perfection, rather than the messiness of process.  God is not looking for strength, but rather God is offering us all to be more dependent on God’s strength.

Christopher once told me that he believes that one of the first characteristics that qualifies anyone to even consider ordination is a feeling of unpreparedness.  Christopher admitted, that even he, after his decades of ministry, feels quote “woefully unprepared” for the tasks at hand on a daily basis.  And so I see that clergy are really beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. Bread that they need as much as everyone else needs. In today’s reading from 1 John, it says “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  In other words, if anyone sees themselves as prepared or fully equipped and judges those that are seemingly unprepared, the path of love is not being walked in that moment.  In Luke Chapter 9, Jesus sends out his disciples without any material possessions, implying that in this place of vulnerability, you can best reach and be reached, not only by other people, but by God.  It is not our comforts that provide us security, nor is it the masks we hide behind that prepare us for the path.  It is not our titles, our degrees, nor wealth or status that equip us.  These may give us an illusion of preparedness, but ultimately, if we are not willing to step out onto the ledge of unpreparedness and give up that which feeds our sense of stability and security, then we are not walking the path of love.  At a particular point of resistance on the process towards ordination, Christopher sent me a quote from Adyashanti’s book, The Impact of Awakening:

The more you step into insecurity, the more you notice how secure and safe it is. Where you just stepped out of was unsafe. Everyone is so miserable because they seek security in things that are limited and always moving and changing unpredictably.

As Christians we are all called to pursue ministry of one kind or another, whether it is in the context of lay ministry or ordained ministry – both of which are equally important.  We are all called into various vocations: in our careers, in the church, in our time spent as volunteers, in the different roles we play in our family, and in the people we are in this world and the actions we take in our lives.  I want to invite you all to take a moment to reflect on the places that are scary for you to say yes to.  The places that seem fearful.  The places that evoke vulnerability.  Ask that God walk with you into these places…. Before beginning any formal period of Centering Prayer I say silently those last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “Into your hands I commend my Spirit”.  As I prepare, God willing, to be ordained as a deacon in transition on June 29th, this continues to be my prayer.  Into your hands, I commend my spirit.  Giving myself over to God, again and again, and again….and again.

While on the ACPO weekend in the Okanagan, on the last night, before finding out the committee’s recommendation the next day, all of the 6 candidates went out to a pub to celebrate the fact that we made it through the potentially stressful series of panels and interviews.  I sat down at the pub, opened the menu, and saw there was a beer named the Back Hand of God.  Of course, without hesitation I ordered a pint of the Back Hand of God, for how could I resist.  I drank a toast.  God has a sense of humour.