36 Years a Priest

Ordination of deacons 1975 - Diocese of Perth

In the year 1975, November 30 was also Advent Sunday; and that’s not the only reason that Feast of St Andrew was a red-letter day. Along with fellow-deacons Len Firth, Chris Albany and Peter McArthur, I was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Geoffrey Sambell in St George’s Cathedral in Perth.

This year, 2011, 36 years, is not a special anniversary, but like all the other occurrences of November 30, it is significant to me.

Underlying a wide range of ministry activities since that day my identity as priest has flavoured and conditioned everything I do. My prayer was – and is – that my priestly identity gives glory to God and serves God’s people well.

I started my ministry as a locum parish priest, but moved quickly into school chaplaincy. In those early years, I believed that the harder I worked the more effective my ministry. I say now with shame that at Christ Church Grammar School, I worked 90 hours a week and neglected my small children. My picture of ministry was that if I put in the majority effort, God would top it up to achieve God’s aims.

Despite my folly, I recognise that God did work through me. I just over-estimated the value of my contribution!

A key date in my life as a priest is March 11, 1992: the ordination to the priesthood in Australia of the first women. I participated as a priest of the diocese, and remember my eyes welling with tears at the conclusion of the rite of ordination. The applause lasted more than five minutes – you can check the duration on recordings of the event – and while the prime focus was on the nine women and one man ordained, I felt a strong sense that my priestly identity was completed.

Firstly, and most obviously, the number of potential colleagues in priestly ministry doubled on that day. The team, or at least the team positions, had grown by 100%. I gave thanks to God that God’s church was no longer persisting in ignoring the talents of half the human race, and probably 70% of the Anglican race! The presence of women in our collegiality meant that new sorts of collaboration could take place.

Secondly, ordaining women affirmed me. I had learned (first from the holy bishop Brian Macdonald) that Jesus exercised the feminine part of his personality, and was able to do that as a man secure in his masculinity. Ordaining women gave me permission to make available in a conscious way for ministry the feminine side of my personality.

This helped me to see, first in practical terms, the importance of being a human being. There was no sin in taking time for myself, and there certainly was no blame in giving real priority to my wife and family. Being present as a husband and father was good ministry in itself!

Beyond that, the ordination of women has helped me to practise more effectively the priority of being over doing. It has helped me undo some of my social conditioning as a man whose job is to get things done.

As ill health forces me to be less active, especially in specifically priestly ministry, I now found I need to draw more fully on the principle that my priesthood is primarily about being. Being present to my wife and family; being present in my community; being present (as much as I can) in my parish. These are the ways, please God, I will continue to give glory to God and serve God’s people well.

Author: Ted Witham

Husband and father, Grandfather.Franciscan, writer and Anglican priest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: