One of my favourite writers, Maggie Ross, says that priesthood is a way of being. I agree. So I am aware that I constantly grow more or less priestly, depending on how my life is being lived in the present moment. The journey to priesthood is on-going, and was, for me, by no means completed at my ordination. In some ways (for example the temptation to clericalism) means that ordination, paradoxically, is a challenge to my priesthood.
My journey in priesthood commenced 60 years ago with my baptism. Staging posts along the way include so many doorways into beauty, especially the churches’ music the beauty of our environment, perplexity at our cruelty, encounters with my own fallibility, the love and generosity of family and friends, the wonderful ideas shared by writers who constantly challenge me. All these and more, help me grow into that priestly way of being.
I was ordained a priest a year later in December 1993, along with 4 other women and 5 men. My enduring memory of that day – the first time women were ordained in our Diocese of Natal – is the sight and scent of masses and masses of flowers, the jam-packed Cathedral.
I first presided at the Eucharist the following day and it remains for me, perhaps the most significant day of my life. To this day, presiding at the Eucharist is an on-going delight.
I am so conscious of the many privileges and opportunities that ordination has opened to me, in addition to presiding at the Eucharist: I have been privy to some profound moments as people told me their stories. I have had the opportunity to teach and learn from those I taught, for 12 years, at the College of the Transfiguration. I have been fortunate to attend meetings in many parts of the world – from Jerusalem to New Zealand, Jamaica, Zimbabwe and England. I have met people from around our communion with whom I stay in touch and who enrich my life. I have served in three warm and hospitable parishes and received s much more than I could ever give.
The journey to priesthood though, is an incomplete one – both for me but also, I believe, for our church. I don’t think the church has come to full embracing of women’s ordination. Rather like the dissipation of the euphoria we felt as a country in 1994, my sense is that the church has lost some of the vision and enthusiasm of the first ordinations of women. For example, I see fewer and fewer women being ordained as stipendiary clergy. The effect of this is that fewer and fewer women are rectors of parishes. I see too many women emulating the very worst of patriarchal clericalism, demanding power and privilege and favouring competition over co-operation. Twenty five years however, is not very long. Not many twenty-five year olds have grown to maturity, or have learnt the kenotic way of Jesus. So I live in hope – hope that our church will learn to value women and indeed all the peopleof God, no matter their race, culture, gender, sexuality, education, wealth, age and so on. And I live in hope that all the baptised, especially those of us empowered by ordination, will learn to live more kenotically, more simply, more like Jesus.