Faith and the Fear of Death

The making of a priest takes many years. A calling must be discerned, not only by the individual but by the Church also, who will test him repeatedly by observation and interview. The candidate must be trained and formed in sanctuaries and seminaries and soup kitchens. He must be examined and found—in the words of the ordinal—“to be of godly life and sound learning.”

Some of us wonder how we got through; many of us wonder how other people did too. At the end of this process, the act of ordination itself takes no time at all. In the parish church of a medieval Oxford village one mild English summer’s afternoon a few months before my thirtieth birthday, the bishop, his hands like a veil upon my head, his voice grave and tender in equal measure, invokes the Holy Spirit to come down upon this servant of God for the office and work of a priest in the Church. Done. Priest made.

I had known since I was sixteen that I was going to be ordained, but neither when nor how. It came to me when, in a Methodist church in my hometown on the northwestern tip of Malaysian Borneo, I asked to hold the pastor’s collar in my own hands, a request he had never heard before but fulfilled anyway. Much has happened since.

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