This week I was privileged to present Clare Stewart at her priesting in the Diocese of Western Newfoundland. It was a beautiful evening at the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist. From the rehearsal to the reception it was an event that reminded me of how proud I am to be a Newfoundlander. It was….unassuming, down to earth, and lacked pretentiousness. The hospitality was natural and was as one might expect it to be in Newfoundland.
Clare and her fellow ordinands were humble and nervous and fittingly a little scared about what they were getting into. Bishop Percy Coffin was so very ‘real’ in the way in which he interacted with the ordinands and with all who were present. That was important. It should be important at all times but was made all the more important by the fact that his successor , Co-Adjoutor Bishop Elect John Meade had died the day before and the funeral was to follow the day after the ordination. Percy was able to laugh and cry during the ordination liturgy, and this priest found his willingness to be ‘real’ to be an important witness.
I’ve referenced ‘real’ a couple of times. Let me explain why. Ed King is a priest I first met when I was a teenager doing youth ministry in Eastern Newfoundland. At that time Ed was a dynamic parish priest at All Saints in Foxtrap, NL. In more recent years he was the Executive Archdeacon of the Diocese of Western NL a position from which he retired and is now filling again in an ‘acting’ role. Ed preached at the ordination. It was an exceptional homily as ordination sermons go. Among other things, he reminded the ordinands and all of us present that, among others things, following the way of Jesus means a willingness to be REAL. By way of illustration he quoted The Velveteen Rabbit.
Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
It was fantastic. Thank you Ed. Thank you this reminder. I really needed to hear it.
Having been in ordained ministry for over twenty years I can say that for all who minister, lay and ordained, being real, and getting real is critical. And it’s hard. It’s hard because the church is not always able or willing to be real. Often, in fact, the church values respectability more than it values being real. I have long held that the church needs a reality check. Some might call it a ‘gut check.’ We cannot honour our baptismal covenant if we do not embrace integrity, if we are not real. Acknowledging our own brokenness and vulnerability, as well as our belovedness will make us real, and bring us closer to one another and closer to God. At times, the institution seems more concerned with how it looks than with how it is. In my dreams, I am often my younger self. I’m thin, I have lots of hair, I have boundless energy. I worry that the church is dreaming when it comes to seeing who we are. I wonder if what ‘we see in the mirror’ is robust, full, relevant and of great influence. When I wake from dreaming I see that I am not my younger self. I also see that I am still beloved, perhaps moreso in my vulnerability, for Jesus reminds us again and again that God favours the weak. The church too might need to wake from dreaming, ‘Look in the mirror’ and embrace the vulnerability of weakness and know that God is with us. Being Real means looking in the mirror and seeing that ‘most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’
There’s a good chance this message is just too real for some. For reality cuts close to the bone. It hurts…but then again, ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’