Dear Friends in Christ,
For many of us, weddings, funerals, graduations, confirmations, anniversaries and other rites of passage have been relegated to online gatherings or postponed until after COVID-19 passes. We tell ourselves, when it’s all over, we will get together to celebrate, to dance, to grieve and to remember. We hold to the promise that we will drive across the province, over the border, hop on a plane – whatever it takes to be present, to give a hug, to give a pat on the back or to share in a wee dram without mask or distance.
Significant people in my life have died within the last 14 months. While we, as a circle of family and friends, have done pretty well reaching out to bear the sadness, it’s not the same as hovering around the grave as a clan to mourn with hearts that are broken. We have made do with a small backyard family wedding, while the rest of the kin waved over Zoom, but it’s not the same as dancing the Time Warp together late in the evening. Two of our children graduate from university programs this spring; their diplomas will likely arrive in the mail. After all the nights of study and hard work, there will be no hooting and hollering with pride when they cross the floor with degree in hand at convocation. It’s been hard not to mark these occasions and be with our people the way we want.
On Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., 10 people will gather at St. James Cathedral, in a building that comfortably holds 800. A preacher, a server, two presenters, a livestreamer, an organist and cantor, a bishop and two candidates will gather to mark a new beginning after a long journey of formation, prayer, study and preparation. On occasions like this one, the place would be full, but not on Sunday in lockdown.
Instead, a small group will gather to celebrate the rite of the ordination of two deacons, Claire Latimer-Dennis and Micah Latimer-Dennis, two candidates who happen to be married to each other. We have two other aspirants, Ginnie Wong and Andrew Kuhl, who will be ordained, God willing, at the end of June. Perhaps we could have waited until the third wave subsided, but our need for ordained leaders is pressing and in a time of upset and want, it’s important to move with haste. Like other first responders and frontline agencies, the Church is called to move quickly. We hear this urgency echoed in the second reading appointed for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Acts 8.26-40.
Philip was whisked away by the Spirit to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. There he met an Ethiopian Eunuch, a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, seated in his chariot. He was reading from the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit prompted Philip to walk alongside, and he heard him reading aloud. Do you understand what you are reading? Philip asked. How can I, unless I have someone to guide me, the court official responded. Philip opened the scripture to reveal Jesus to him. The man was so moved by this encounter that the caravan stopped by a pool of water and he was baptized. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God whisked Philip away to Azotus, where he preached the Gospel. And the Eunuch saw him no more and went on rejoicing…
Philip’s example is reflected in the words of the examination in the ordination service. As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the holy scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live and work and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world…
In the midst of pandemic comes Good News! Two deacons are ushered out into the world to serve, to interpret and to proclaim. In a time of deep need comes Good News! Two are whisked away by the Spirit to attend to the needs of the hurting and the grieving, the lost and the forsaken. Two are summoned to walk alongside with us to the grave, on the dance floor, down the aisle, across the stage.
While only 10 may gather in person, I hope that you will join us online on Sunday afternoon to welcome two new deacons called by God to serve.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto