Priesthood and ontological change part II

Well, it's been a really weird twenty-four hours and not being afraid of being vulnerable (how is that?!), I'll bear a little more, possibly risking exposure...

I have had several conversations about this one now, with
a) People who did not know what I was talking about, so were of little help
b) With my husband, which was interesting but much too late at night
c) With those of a more evangelical persuasion who believe there is little in the NT to indicate a sacerdotal ontological change
d) Those more sacramentally-minded who consider something profound to happen
e) A couple of college tutors: St John's and Oakhill who have been very helpful

As regards my own experiences over the last twenty-four hours, prayer has been very helpful. I have discovered through it both how generous God is (this I knew already but I have a heightened appreciation now) and that there is something of an element of denial going on within me. That whilst I want to do nothing more than serve my Lord with every ounce of my being, I am also so mindful about staying connected with the people who make up his kingdom, that I am a little frightened about being set apart for fear of any barriers this might cause. In my humility (I hope that's where it comes from), I have difficulty with the whole idea of being 'revered'.

At the same time, it has struck me over the last twenty-four hours, more forcibly than perhaps ever before, that I am 'different' and God has called me, I can't help it and it does mean I feel a certain way, live a certain way and orientate my life around God in a way that is not the case for most of the people on this planet.

It has struck me forcibly because I have been at my church's carol service with many unchurched people in attendance because they were there to see their children sing in the choir.

To some of them, no doubt, Jesus will mean everything but for many he is just a cute baby in a cute story which forms some mythical backdrop to Christmas. As I took it all in I imagined they might all love Jesus, who am I to know the orientation of their hearts...? and I watched and I listened but I heard the 'now finally, can we get out of here' and the people behind me joking about how Christmas for them was all about X factor rather than + factor and you know, let's be honest...some people really have decided not to follow Jesus. So we have a job to do as Christians!

However much we want God to be everyone's experience on this planet (and indeed our wanting this to be the case so passionately is a part of the call), most people on this planet do not crave his presence in the very pit of their being most of the time, speak to him in a language that is not their own and mind not at all the idea of their own death - this is just not 'normal', whatever 'normal' means.

...so I am 'different.'

And so my baptism, confirmation and future ordination (God willing!) are the visible rites performed to testify to my ontological change. I am a child of the Kingdom.

As to whether there is some heightened change at ordination, I am not thoroughly convinced but on balance, I have decided to put this theological tangle into the same bag as the one about 'second blessing'. Theologically, 'second blessing' is problematic, even though I can point to the precise occasion of my being consciously first filled with the Spirit in a manifest way, in a way about which I was quite unaware when I was two years' old and Christened.

St Paul, however, explains how we are continually filled with the Spirit and I understand this to be the case from experience too. Being filled with the Spirit is also something which might not be manifest and experiential for everyone for Paul explains how the Gentiles and the converting Jews were filled with the Spirit the second they turned to believe (Ephesians 1). He does not mention whether there were any physical manifestations on those occasions, although the New Testament portrays it as very experiential elsewhere (Paul himself, Cornelius, Pentecost etc). Paul is more interested in the visible fruits of the Spirit which testify to the indwelling of the Spirit and what these fruits look like as they influence life in the home and in the world and in the ekklesia.

'Normal' 'New and Old Testament-style' is that the Spirit does indeed change us and his presence is 'experienced'. The Spirit of God can also be passed to others if it be God's will to use us as conduits, so I do not doubt that those hands pressing down and asking God for the Spirit at ordination would convey the gifts of a very generous God who is only too happy to lavish extra helpings of his Spirit upon those who ask for it so earnestly and have their hearts orientated towards him.

I think as with justification and sanctification, I will mull over the idea that ontological change happens when we realise we are God's children, that in his grace he has picked us out before the foundation of the world and out of gratitude we will praise him that in his grace he did this, we say 'yes' to his invitation and are changed from a place of darkness to light. We become children of God, in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As with all things 'now and not yet' (eschatological tension), our ontological change is not complete and we continue to change as we are sanctified, we transform into the likeness of Christ if we cooperate with his Holy Spirit. Now you would hope at ordination that there is rather a great deal of cooperation going on, hearts are prepared and orientated maximally towards the Lord's and so this rite might be a visible sign of the interior changes going on with very exterior manifestations, both in terms of the clothing accompanying the rite and the behaviours displayed which are more rather than less likely to be emotional.

To conclude, at this point in my journey, I understand ordination to change me socially (Thomas Renz Oakhill and Andii Bowsher St John's see Nouslife have interesting things to say about this) and I understand it to be a visible sign of an interior reality, what I am always going to be very careful about adding as addendums is that God has no favourites, that we are all 'in Christ' by grace and through faith and that we make up a body of diverse parts where some of us are called to be priests and some of us are called to do other things and God will equip us to bring in his Kingdom if we ask him.


Peter O said...


If you're uncomfortable with the idea that ordination in and of itself produces an ontological transformation, and yet, like myself, you discern that you *are* different from others, may I suggest that what priesting is about is "ontological recognition". Those of us who are priests were created by God to be such and so it is normal for us to feel different and to grow in our understanding of our difference. What ordination does is to recognise and affirm that ontological difference and to give it the right space and strucure to be expressed.

Or at least that's what this sacramental Evangelical (with Lutheran theology) thinks.


Rachel Marszalek said...

Ontological recognition - that is very helpful.

Thank you Peter.

'Sacramental evangelical' emmm like it!

Suem said...

Interesting! On the one hand, I believe in the priesthood of all believers and know that vicars are certainly very human and very fallible ( my father was an Anglican priest!) On the other hand I have sometimes asked a priest for prayer and had a distinct sense of someting special in the "holiness" of that person and/or their office.

Hope all goes well for your ordination.

Rachel Marszalek said...

ahhh - still 18 months or so to go yet and lots of essays and two placements to get through first...;-)


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