This weekend the church celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. It’s a time that is traditionally associated with ordination, and on Saturday I was ordained as a priest in Llandaff Cathedral. It’s an event that I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life reflecting on, but I thought it might be sensible to share some initial thoughts.
Our ordination retreat began on Wednesday at Llangasty Retreat House up near Brecon. It’s an absolutely beautiful area and it was so useful to be able to spend a few days there before all the drama of the weekend.
I was quite nervous about going on retreat because last year we’d had a really strange conductor who I just couldn’t connect with, so I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have done. This year our conductor was Canon Rosie Harper, who is the chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham. She was really good at putting us at ease and the whole retreat was so relaxed. There’s a lot of free time built into the programme anyway, but, unlike our conductor last year who kept setting us tasks, Rosie saw the time very much as a time to relax and connect with God before the madness of everyday life, she encouraged us to use our free time resting and preparing ourselves. The sessions she led were quite short to encourage that. They were all looking at the various relationships involved in our ministries and encouraging us to develop them to be healthy- relationship with God, ourselves, family, congregation and the institution. She would lead the session by starting with a bible reading, speaking a bit about the topic, followed by a poem or reflection, and finishing with a piece of music. There was lots of practical as well as spiritual advice given, which helped us to think productively in our free time. One of the things that Rosie said that stayed with me was that she encouraged us to think about what sort of person we see God as, because we then become that person. So if we see God as an all-powerful, judging figure who has the last say in everything, then that will be reflected in our leadership as we become more like that; but if we see God as an all-loving, forgiving figure, then we will become that person. It’s not enough to pray to become more like God, we need to think about what that will actually mean. So this year I actually looked forward to going to the sessions, but made the most of our free time by sleeping, just doing nothing, and on Thursday I went for a walk down to the lake with two of the ordinands being deaconed. It was lovely catching up with them, and being reminded of my own worries from a year ago, and how much I’ve progressed in that time. The walk also happened to be absolutely beautiful, and we found a replica hut built on the lake, which the swallows were all flitting around.
On Saturday morning we left Llangasty in convoy to drive back to Llandaff Cathedral. After a bit of a nerve-wracking moment when I thought we were going to be permanently stuck in a hedge next to a large scaffolding van, eventually we got past it and the rest of the drive was beautiful. The first part is through the Brecon Beacons, and it was one of those wonderful moments when the cloud is low and at times you’re driving through it, then below it, then above it. I just love seeing mountains disappear into cloud, and I enjoyed the whole journey to the cathedral. Last year I was really nervous but this year I was relaxed enough to enjoy the scenery, and I felt closer to God than I did for probably the rest of the day.
We got to the cathedral in loads of time, and somehow managed to arrive at the exact time as my friends and family who had stayed at my house the night before and drove over in the morning. There were a couple of them from university who I hadn’t seen for about a year, so it was wonderful to get out the car and see them straight away. The service itself seemed to go very quickly, apart from the hymns which no-one seemed to know so they seemed to take much longer than normal. We’d had a rehearsal on Wednesday so we all knew what we were doing and the Cathedral staff are very good at making sure you’re in the right place at the right time, which is useful for those of us who aren’t used to cathedral worship. There were two main differences between being priesting and deaconed in the ordination service. The first is that you’re allowed to invite other priests to join with the bishop and archbishop in laying on of hands. I have quite a few clergy in my friends and family, so it was difficult to narrow it down, but I was lucky enough to have my Mum, my fiance, my Godfather, a good friend from college, and my training incumbent laying hands. The only problem is that it’s a lot of hands, so it feels like a lot of weight pressing down on you. A lot of people, evangelicals and catholics, have said that they felt a change come on them at this point in the service. I must confess that I didn’t, but it might have been that I was so busy concentrating on the next stage of getting up and carrying on, that I didn’t relax enough to appreciate anything happening internally. The points of the service that were the most moving were the ones where we had to turn to face the congregation, and our friends and family were all sitting there beaming at us, looking really proud and, some of them, looking quite teary as well.
The other point that differed was in the communion part of the service. The deacons at this point in the service get taken to a side-chapel to just relax and have a breather before having people swarm around them at the end of the service. I found this time really useful last year. This year though, the priests concelebrate at communion and then help to administer it, so we weren’t able to relax just yet. I’ve never been sure about concelebration, I’ve always thought it looked a bit cult-y. But I brought up my concerns at our last ICME and it was explained that ordination is an appropriate time to concelebrate, as it’s a symbol of the bishop sharing the ministry with the priests he’s entrusting his parishes to. The other time it’s appropriate is at ecumenical services so that one tradition isn’t presiding over another. Although I was ok with it, it did still feel quite strange, particularly when you’re still getting used to the hand gestures to use during the Eucharistic Prayer. It all seemed to go ok though, and after communion the service finished very quickly and we were all able to go outside into the sunshine to meet the friends and relatives who came to the service. Most of mine were coming back to my house anyway, but it was nice to get some photos out in the sunshine in front of the cathedral.
We’d been really worried about the weather on Saturday, but fortunately it decided to stay nice and dry and sunny, so we were able to go back to my house and have a BBQ on the lawn. It was nice to be able to catch up with people, and by late-afternoon we were all on the verge of napping. Fortunately my friend Abi made me some amazing cupcakes so we had a sugar hit on hand.
I didn’t have any services the following morning, because I celebrated my first communion in the evening at St Athan church. Most of my friends had to go home by this point, as they’re now adults and have jobs on Monday mornings! Fortunately my Godparents were still around as my Godfather John was preaching in the service. A lot of my congregation from around the benefice were there, and some of our clergy friends from Swansea and Brecon Diocese were able to be there as well. The service went really well, despite singing a song no-one knew, and my parish had organised refreshments for afterwards, including an amazing cake with my face on it!
The overwhelming feeling I’ve had from the weekend is that I’m incredibly well supported by both my friends and family, and my congregation. The number of cards and messages I’ve had with people praying for me has been brilliant, and the number of people who came out for the service on the Sunday evening was really encouraging. It’s definitely getting my ministry as a priest off to a good start, and I can only hope that I’m as popular at the end of my time here as I am now. Next week is going to be completely different as we’re preparing to take a group of kids to youth camp, but I now have the rest of the summer to relax into the new tasks I have to perform as a priest in the Church in Wales.