When Clergy Pray Together
Up at Chapel Rock, the Bishop gathers the deacons and priests of the diocese for a time of reunion, recreation, and learning. The annual clergy conference is always a little bit like a call to better work and a family reunion.
Although we work just down the street from each other, it is the best time to stand around with Jim Clark and Poulson Reed (newly elected bishop of Oklahoma), as well as clergy from around the state. I got to know a new chaplain for the Imago Dei School in Tucson, newly from San Diego by way of Yuma, and caught up with Kerry Neuhardt and his work up in Lakeside.
We spent the two days together primarily learning about dementia care from an Episcopal priest and mentor to our bishop. The priest was diagnosed a few years ago. There is a lot to process about that, and I am coming back with ideas about how we might be responsive to this disease in all its forms.
But we also did what you would expect when clergy are together, we had daily prayers and the Eucharist. A hundred plus clergy praying, listening to and reflecting on the Word of God and receiving communion together. Now it was not an ideal location in terms of worship. There are never enough folding plastic chairs in Newell Hall, a large room never really dedicated to worship. The service is projected on a screen that hangs on a wall. It is camp worship.
It feels different to worship with all clergy. I was struck by it this week. Everybody sings. Everybody responds boldly. Everybody is engaged, knows the liturgy, and prays. There is a profound unity in a group of people dedicated to the same purpose, committed to the work of Christ, and willing to throw themselves into worship.
Now, we aren’t better singers than the average lay community. We are not really that much smarter or better educated. We are just in it. And, we are past being embarrassed about worship.
There are a lot of things about the religious vocational life that I would never recommend to anyone unless they were called by God. But there are a few things I wish you could experience.
I wish you knew the power of letting God have you in worship and letting the Spirit worship through you. I wish you knew the freedom of throwing yourself into worship, singing, and responding to the liturgy. I wish you knew the joy of knowing that the people around you are committed to the same work you are, even if you don’t agree about much more.
The truth is none of that relies on being ordained. You can have deep worship, let God fill you and use you, and enjoy a community joined in unity right now. All you have to do is commit and worship with all your heart, mind, and strength.
This week marks my 24th anniversary as an ordained minister of the Gospel. I knelt in a Baptist church in Buckeye, Arizona, and a church community laid hands on me and recognized the ministry to which God had called me. I came to the Episcopal church two years later, was hired by the diocese, and began the road to ordination all over again. I was ordained seventeen years ago in the Episcopal church, at All Saints just down the street, by my bishop and our church again.
Though my life in faith has been marked by my vocation, my joy has come in learning to live not as priest but as a disciple of Jesus, dedicated to his kingdom, filled by his Spirit, and walking in his way, just like you.
Let us be Christ’s Church together, letting him have us. Let us worship boldly, sing loudly, and rejoice to be on this journey with him.