Tomorrow at the cathedral in Paris we will ordain two new priests in the Convocation—Stéphanie Burette and Jean Dumond Chavanne. Each of them, in their own ways, are stories very different from the usual account of a person who senses a vocation to ministry and follows that call through to ordination. By offering themselves to this ministry, and by the church responding through affirming their gifts and presenting them for this moment, they expand our understanding of what ordained ministry can be in the Episcopal Church.
At the same time, however, the world in which we we are launching them as new priests is, quite simply, unlike anything that has come before. The church makes a claim for a set of truths grounded on the radical idea that love is the most powerful force for good in the world; and among other things these two new priests will vow tomorrow to “minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant, that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received.”
But the world is less and less willing to receive that message. A world trapped in a spiral of fear—fear of a virus, fear of the immigrant, fear of the unfamiliar, fear of the other—cannot see the value in the one thing it needs most. Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher at the University of Chicago, has recently written in her book The Monarchy of Fear that “Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.” It is hard to imagine a more succinct analysis of the world Stéphanie and Dumond are being sent out to save.
It is not an accident, perhaps, that when Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to begin their work, he did not send them equipped with theological libraries or closets of new vestments. Neither did he send them with certificates to prove that they had been “ordained” to proclaim the kingdom to any they encountered. In fact, as the gospel makes clear, Jesus sends out those who minister in his name with—nothing. Nothing, at least, of power, nothing of the accoutrement of privilege, nothing to convey or claim authority. Nothing, that is, except this: The gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, and the possibility of justification before the throne of judgment by faith in that truth and in the transforming power of the love that brought it about.
This is what we equip Stéphanie and Dumond with tomorrow. Other than that, we pray in the moment of their ordination that the church, which has chaperoned their long relationship with the Holy Spirit to this moment, will move out of the way and let the Spirit complete the work begun when they first sensed this call. They are casting off from the dock and heading their ships out into unknown waters, with nothing more than the gifts planted in them by the God who created them out of love. So keep them in their prayers as they leave the safe harbor of the oversight and care of the ordination process, and take on the high and holy task of carrying out their ministry in an often harsh and always skeptical world.
Our transitional Deacons, the Rev. Stéphanie Burette and the Rev. Jean Dumond Chavanne will, God willing, be ordained Priests on Saturday, June 27, at 1:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris. The service will be broadcast live over Facebook. A very limited number of family and essential personnel will be present in person for the ordination in the cathedral. These precautions are of course due to social distancing and health requirements resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.