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Ordination and Invitation

This Saturday at 10 a.m. at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Tempe, Arizona, the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Reddall will ordain the Rev. Tanya Watt to the sacred order of priest in the church. Tanya is Tim’s wife and so connected to Christ Church in a direct way. 

I was ordained in 2003 at All Saints, because Trinity Cathedral had been burned while I was at seminary. Before that I was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1996 in Buckeye, Arizona. The orders are very different in some regards, but the purpose is the same: we set a person into an order of ministry, consecrating their lives to the service of God and the church in particular ways.

There are no priests in the church. It is helpful to understand that the Greek word for “priest” is not actually used in the New Testament to refer to any single member of the church after Jesus. It was used to refer to the Hebrew priests in the temple, the high priest, and to Jesus as our high priest. And it was used to refer to the ministry of the people of the church in a couple of places. 

The word we transfer over is actually presbyter or elder. They were local leaders of congregations in the early church set aside fairly early to lead, teach, and instruct under the ministry of the local bishop. 

The reason this is helpful is that we priests are not meant to be intermediaries, offering sacrifices for the church, nor being the arbiters of healing, forgiveness, or blessing. No, we are set aside to be examples as coaches, teaching, preaching, and offering sacraments to the church “for the equipping of the saints.” 

The church is the bringer of healing, forgiveness, and blessing. In the church it is best to think of the priest as coach, counselor, and model. We teach, run drills, and put players on the field where they are needed sometimes. We counsel, encourage, motivate, and correct the team members to play at their best. And we model by how we live and play the Good News of Jesus Christ as a lived reality and present hope. 

I am excited to have Tanya in the order of priesthood, and it is our joy to cheer her on in her ministry with the people of Saint Augustine’s and the whole church of God. But I would be remiss if I did not also say that as I type these words of description I am humbled by this call every day. 

But our call is not for us. It is a call to the church. Without the people of God, there is no presbyter. There is no elder if there are no people. That is why many people feel a call but are not ultimately ordered as priest. And there are characteristics that disqualify some people from serving in this role in a healthy way. The role of bishop and diocesan structure is to help discern the vocation and fitness of those called and ordained. 

Tanya has been called, trained, and will be ordained into the order of priests this weekend, and we will be there to promise to support her and lift her up. 

What makes this order sacred is that we are set aside to do work unto God. Like other Christians, our ultimate responsibility is to our Father revealed in Christ living in us through the Holy Spirit.  That is why there is a craft to being a pastor. Because the quality of the work is ultimately judged by God and so must be studied and pursued and matured through our whole lives. 

Pray for those called. Pray for our bishop and her role in ordaining those called into ministry. Pray for Tanya Watt, sister in Christ, as she is set aside into the priesthood this Saturday. And join us as we pray, rejoice, and lift her up.