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Hallo again to all.

Yesterday, we attended one of the loveliest of regular events in the life of the church—the making of deacons. We have always found the diaconate one of the most important if least understood orders of the Church's ministry, with its daunting responsibilities of bringing the needs of the world to Christ, and bringing Christ to the world through care of the poor, and the right proclamation of the Gospel through preaching and teaching.

As ordinations should be, it was a joyous occasion celebrating a new chapter in the ministries of seven young men and women. In an unusual reality for our part of the Anglican world, all of the new transitional deacons are quite young, with none over the remarkably low age of 35. The event was all the more wonderful for its ratification through the rites of the Church catholic of the gifts for ministry of these young people, several of whom had been unjustly rejected in other dioceses, and all of whom had fought against the tide of discouragement that has been the official response of much First World Anglicanism to young vocations in recent decades. In our part of the Anglican tidal pool, there are hopeful signs of a sea change in this regard, and we felt fortunate and thankful to be able to be small parts of such a change by lifting up our hearts in the Sursum corda yesterday morning, and in singing hearty Amens throughout the service.

The ordination was all the more remarkable because the ordinands, some of whom we know as close friends, were, in a word, content. They had about them a quiet joy in their public acceptance of the beginning of a lifetime of servanthood. There was no sense that any of them were eager to push past and through the diaconate on to the priesthood, a ruridecanal post, an early attempt to add red canon's piping to their cassocks, or to episcopal and archiepiscopal dignities. The 1662 BCP bids us pray for deacons

that they, having always the testimony of a good conscience, and continuing ever stable and strong in thy Son Christ, may so well behave themselves in this inferior Office, that they may be found worthy to be called unto the higher Ministries in thy Church

and we are quite content ourselves in doing so.

In the last decade we have met a half-dozen men (and they have all been men) in theological colleges—for a sense of our geographical sample, they were in Saskatchewan, West Yorkshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—who told us in identical, astonishing words that they are called by God to be bishops. In canonical terms, all were aspirants to or candidates for the priesthood. All had been approved by local selection conferences or diocesan commissions on ministry to attend seminaries or theological colleges. All said in complete sincerity six words that would have been impossible to utter in previous generations: 'I am called to the episcopate.' They were unhappy laymen, eager to leapfrog into what the BCP calls 'higher Ministries' with all dispatch. We cannot but think that the diaconate and presbyterate—and the people they must needs serve while toiling in the lowly vineyard—were to them onerous if necessary roadblocks to what they really wanted. It came as no surprise when in further conversation each man said that he was a proponent of 'direct ordination' rather than the traditional practical of 'sequential ordination'.*

The Church of God has taught always, everywhere, and through all its teachers—semper, ubique et ab omnibus if you prefer the Commonitorium—that the only appropriate response of one chosen by the church for the ministry of oversight is Nolo episcopari: 'I do not wish to be made a bishop.' Humility, modesty, diligence in ministry, constancy, sobriety, and lack of ambition have been for twenty centuries the criteria by which the people of the Christian Church choose their episcopal overseers. A candidate who said in ancient times Volo episcopari would declare ipso facto for all the world that he was unworthy to be a bishop. This the wise and holy Walter Conrad Klein (1904-1980) fourth Bishop of Northern Indiana, wrote about this kind of seminarian long ago:

Like an army officer whose scale of living anticipates his next promotion, he is perpetually one step ahead of himself. He never gets a theological education, because his devotion to the Breviary and to the spiritual direction of his fellow-students gives him no leisure for study. He distributes his unsought counsel impartially, whether it is appreciated or not, and every novel twist of ceremonial that has its brief day in the school can be traced to him. He knows precisely how everybody ought to pray and what everybody ought to wear, and in his opinion the faculty is deplorably sloppy. The only things he does not know are dogmatic theology, church history, the Old Testament, the New Testament, ethics, moral theology, practical theology, and his own limitations. He will become a priest without ever having been a seminarian. All through his life he will defeat himself by trying to do today what he will not be ready to do until tomorrow. Of him this may confidently be predicted: as soon as he is a priest he will buy himself a mitre and an episcopal ring, and whenever he grows tired of being a priest—a man of his type quickly becomes the victim of a monumental weariness—he will put them on and admire himself in secret.**

We wonder tonight if our modern systems of episcopal search and election, nomination, appointment, self-promoting campaign, application, hustings, walkabouts—and the manoeuvring of every kind that go along with them, as evidenced so painfully by the Slee Memo—have not borrowed too much from secular models of leadership selection. We wonder if processes of selection and approval have failed to be critical of candidates who believe with such earnestness before they have done a week of parish ministry that it is God's will for the church that they become bishops.

We wonder, too, if we could ask a small favour of those around the Anglican Communion who are screening potential clergy. When you meet candidates who give every indication of hopefulness and sincere contentedness in the beginning of their ministry as deacons, encourage them, and promote them. When you meet candidates who are open in their ambitious desire to wear mitres in the near term, lock them in a room with bread, water, and a chalkboard. When they have written Nolo episcopari a million times, start them over again at the beginning of the ordination selection process. For we have it on good authority that 'the harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few'; and we have seen for ourselves that cheerful, intelligent, capable—and yes, not mitre-grasping—candidates are at the ready to answer Frank Weston's command:

Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

See you next week. Nolumus episcopari, and you shouldn't either.

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Last updated: 5 June 2011

* Ordination per saltum—by a leap—to the priesthood without the diaconate, or to the episcopate without the earlier orders—is attested in church history, but always as an abnormality. This topic is of great interest to clergy but almost no one else.

** See Clothed with Salvation: A Book of Counsel for Seminarians (Evanston, Illinois: Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1953), Chapter VI: "It Appertaineth Not unto Thee."

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