By Rev. BJ Dunbar
Thinking back to the day of my ordination to the diaconate I recall moments of rush and hurry and moments like a movie in slow motion and some where everything stopped.
I will mark the day in my memory as a high point of remarkable year and a day of joy in the middle of a very difficult summer. Earlier in the year I was finally certified a Spiritual Care Practitioner by the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care and within the year I will also be recognized as a member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. Professionally, these are and will be landmark moments in my career. But on June 4, I made a sacred commitment, a holy vow to God, my church, the bishop and a public profession of my faith. No career moment can rival that.
It was a whirlwind day, but I need to back up a bit. Only nine days prior to the Ordination Day, a dear uncle died. And the day after that, our dog. Much of the week leading up to the ordination I was grieving. Thankfully, we had a lovely retreat which helped me clarify what I was committing myself to and solidify my commitment. It helped me transition from grief to celebration.
Saturday morning time started flying. I parted from the other ordinands and our chaplain and went to an all-day class at Regis College. From there, I raced off to a family wedding, and enjoyed family time. We tried not to stay up too late - after all, I had church in the morning!
I gave advance notice to the deacon I serve with at Church of the Epiphany in Woodstock that I would not be there for the 9 am BCP service. She has been my teacher, mentor, guide, and friend. However I was there as a postulant for the 10:30. Afterward I hurried home to change clothes (it was finally time to wear that clerical collar) grab my deacon’s stole, and pick up my son. He and one of my daughters would be bringing up the gifts.
The commute from Woodstock is nearly an hour. But by that time, I was getting excited. Not that eager excitement I feel when I know something great is about to happen, but that anticipatory and anxious excitement that accompanies occasions I know to be bigger than me, beautiful, and far beyond my control. I believe I chatted quite a lot on the ride. The extrovert in me finds that to be the best way to manage that nervous energy.
Not long after arrival was the first moment that day when everything stopped, just for a moment. I was giving my son a bit of a tour of the Cathedral sanctuary. He looked at me and said, “I know this is probably at least two years late in asking, but why are you doing this?”
I had to take a long pause. I know my answer does not occur as ‘rational’ to most people. We raised our children to believe in God and I hoped they would seek to know God. But we were never fervent or particularly devout. He had already moved out that day when I read about Pope Francis considering the ordination of women as deacons. I had never thought about it before, but in that moment I thought, “Oh, I would do that.” So often as a seminarian other students would ask me why I was not pursuing an MDiv, why I was not in the ordination stream. I always said I was not interested in ordination. Somehow in this moment, I thought of the role of the deacon, and a voice in my head said ‘yes, do that’. ‘What? No’, I thought, ‘that is not for me’ and the voice in my head said more emphatically now ‘Yes. You can. And you can do it now’. I had never experienced anything like that before or since. And all I could say to my son as time started moving again was that I truly felt called by God to do so.
More and more people arrived and there were greetings and congratulations and moments of catching up. The calm of Bishop Todd was a great blessing then and the clear orderliness of Archdeacon Tanya and Reverend Lizette provided a steady beacon on which to place my focus.
As the day unfolded, I saw my fellow ordinands as delighted as I was. Time slowed as I saw my husband and my children, faces full of loving pride. I saw my sister-in-law, her husband and dear friends gathered in the pews - friends I have known for 15 years, friends I knew at Huron that are now priests, friends from my church and from St. Luke’s where I was recently doing a placement. I was so happy to see Rev Shirley, deacon from Church of the Epiphany, standing next to our Epiphany friends and reading the gospel, and then Steve Greene, one of my Huron favorites, delivered the most excellent homily. If you read this, Steve, know that I am asking myself often, “How will I use my voice?”
Soon enough I was standing up at the front of the sanctuary, being presented to the Bishop, and then trying to remember the choreography, as we wheeled and pivoted, and prayed. And then I was kneeling, awaiting consecration. How can I describe that? I felt myself still with patient anticipation. I had known the experience of being prayed for before. It was often a beautiful gift. I had known people to pray for my health or healing or to ask for a blessing upon me. I had made the solemn sacred vow of matrimony. But in this moment, while time was crawling by, the Bishop was asking God to recognize and sanctify my commitment to serve and to fill me with all that would be necessary to complete what would be asked of me in this ministry. It was hard to contain. For the briefest of moments, everything was quiet and there was nothing there but the Bishop’s hands lightly on my head and my thoughts of “Here I am, Lord”!
Rev. BJ Dunbar is the Deacon for Outreach at the Church of the Epiphany, Woodstock.