In October my life changed forever. In Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, the mother church of the Anglican diocese of Niagara, Bishop Susan Bell laid hands on me, and through her episcopal authority ordained me into holy orders. I began the day as one thing, ended it as another. I took oaths, made promises, embarked on a new commitment, and completed a story that formally started in 2016 when my training for the priesthood began.
Years of study, prayer, and work, all directed toward a vocational pinnacle, fulfilled at the altar of a cathedral with my family, friends, and the assembled church watching. The night before was like all of the Christmas Eves in the world. The day itself I can compare only with my wedding 32 years ago. But back then we had cake; this time only cookies.
Yet in all seriousness, I fully understand why a number of people reading this would be cynical, because they doubt or deny God and Christianity. I say I fully understand because I count some of you as my dearest friends, and to all agnostics and atheists out there I want to apologize. If Christians had done a better job, if we’d acted more like the founder of our faith had demanded, it would be a hard heart indeed that would take offence.
I want to do all that I can to dissolve the indifference or even hostility that so many good and reasonable people have toward organized Christianity.
So one of my reasons for deciding on this journey, and one I fully intend to combine with my media work, is that I want to do all that I can to dissolve the indifference or even hostility that so many good and reasonable people have toward organized Christianity.
I’m a deeply flawed, entirely inadequate person to represent Christ, but what I can try to do is to attempt to explain him, show him, and then simply not get in the way. Christianity is the permanent revolution of breathtaking and roaring love, an encounter with the rebel Jesus that, in the words of the oath we have just taken, calls us “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”
Ordination is many things, but at its core it’s about practical grace. Feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, support the broken, sit with and listen to the frightened, struggle for the abused and mistreated. Love, peace and hope. God. Yes, God. One of my mentors, Father Rob Fead, used to say that God was either everything or nothing, and I recalled these words as I trembled — sometimes literally — before the steps of the sanctuary.
Rob was killed last year when his motorcycle was struck by a pickup truck. I miss the great man dearly. His widow asked me to take his clerical wear and, dismissing my reluctance, insisted that this is what he would have wanted.
So on this day of thrashing emotions I wore his shirt and collar, and his white cassock. It was a symbol of continuity, a reminder that I am one of many who have gone before, and many who will follow. One of myriad travellers on the road of faith, pilgrims looking to the shrine of the man who 2,000 years ago saw through every lie, every hurt, and every injustice.
For this is not about me, but something far more significant and timeless. When I stood with my four fellow deacons, shining new and surely nervous, and looked into the faces of the congregation, I thought of Rob, of my parents who sacrificed so much for me, of all of those I had lost and am confident I will see once again. Of dad, who rejected religion but by his love and selflessness reflected God and goodness, of mum who raised me in the moral certainty of kindness and care but knew nothing of church. “Only in the agony of parting,” wrote George Eliot, “do we look into the depths of love.”
What is before me now is unwinding by the day, and what I shall meet in the future is a pageant still in the making. All I know is that I now take each step not alone, but in the company of those far greater than me. And that gives me more joy than I can ever say.
The Reverend Michael Coren is a deacon in the Diocese of Niagara and a regular contributor to the Niagara Anglican.