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Will you fan the embers?Hallo again to all.

Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this past week were the three Ember days of Lent, set aside anciently as times for special fasting and prayer with their cousins in Advent, Whitsuntide and near Holy Cross Day. These days and their accompanying mini-seasons—Embertides—are among the loveliest of the treasures of the medieval church brought to English-speakers through the Book of Common Prayer. In recent centuries of Anglican history, the Ember days have been especially devoted to prayer for the ministry of the Church, for those about to be ordained. In many places, Ember-weeks are the appointed time for ordinands to write letters to their bishops with summaries of their spiritual and educational growth. Though we know their name has nothing to do with the glowing bits of wood in a fireplace, at each return of an Embertide we think of the Church as a big, holy hearth that needs just the right aim of a bellows to bring its smouldering spots roaring back to bright glowing life.

The collect appointed by some older versions of the BCP for the keeping of these days sums together masterfully the perennial themes of ministry, lay or ordained:

O God, who hast made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and didst send thy blessed Son Jesus Christ to preach peace to them that are afar off and to them that are nigh: Grant that all peoples of the world may feel after thee and find thee; and hasten, O Lord, the fulfilment of thy promise to pour out thy Spirit upon all flesh; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.*

An Anglican dogtagNotwithstanding the church-political lions who 'walk about seeking whom they may devour' and the vicissitudes of clerical training, this collect reminds us that the charter of the church's ministry remains the preaching of the gospel of peace to all peoples. To borrow a fine phrase from Sam of Casablanca, 'the fundamental things apply / as time goes by'.

It was with this cluster of thoughts about ministry this week that we found the small silver charm shown above. IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY PLEASE NOTIFY AN EPISCOPAL PRIEST it says, echoing down the decades since its creation the firm faith and church-attachment of the person who once wore it. For all our prayer for ordinands this Embertide and all our attachment to Anglicanism, though, we're not sure that we could ever wear such a tag in the hope that someone happening upon our unconscious bodies would immediately telephone the rector of Christ Church, Emerald City. We'd much prefer such a Good Samaritan notify a tiny handful of people: our spouses, a close friend or two, and a short list of clergy-friends with whom we'd want to spend time during a critical emergency. This is not just because we're private and picky, but because we're slightly afraid sometimes of the decisions made by ordination selection committees, and of the political germs that are perhaps as likely to be brought into the sickroom as pastoral care and prayer.

This Embertide we've resolved to do something more than only praying for those about to be ordained, or those who find themselves called to ministerial roles in the church. We've decided to do our best to support theological education in colleges and seminaries; to work to foster a healthier spirit in our church that may lead to lower rates of clergy burnout; to encourage urgent measures to ameliorate seminary-debt; and to communicate better with the several ministers God has vouchsafed to us—in particular by making sure that they have fresh jars of apple butter, by finding out better what they and we need for godlier life together, and by thanking them for heeding their calls.

We're not sure that we'll be wearing a sterling-silver Anglican dogtag come Whitsun Embertide, but we are sure that there are some positive changes to be made with respect to interaction across and among the several orders of churchfolk. Such changes would go a long way toward the collects's 'fulfilment of [God's] promise to pour out [the Holy] Spirit upon all flesh'.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 17 February 2008

* A fine modern version of this prayer is in the current Melanesian Prayer Book: GOD you have made of one blood all nations of men to have their home in this world, and you sent your blessed Son Jesus Christ to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near, may all the peoples of the world feel after you and find you, and bring nearer the time of your promise to pour out your Spirit on all men, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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