Skip to content

What happens at a Priests Ordination Service?

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
7 min read
What happens at a Priests Ordination Service?
Photo by Michel Grolet / Unsplash

Table of Contents

While the elements are the same since they are taken from the 2019 Book of Common Prayer (in our case), the style and expression can vary depending on the diocese as well as the individual church. In any case, it's all very intentional, collaborative, and points everyone to Jesus.

Forget about style

If I get to keep writing like I want to, you are going to read this thought more than once. Stop thinking about church in terms of style. Please ditch words like formal, traditional, and high-church when you think about liturgical churches. In fact, you should ditch words like informal, contemporary, or whatever the current term is when you think about non-liturgical churches. To reduce a church to its style is to reduce it to a consumable. Sadly, this has become the intention of many churches and the schools/programs that churn them out. Churches have brands. Brands generally produce more fans of churches and pastors, and fewer followers of Jesus.

That sounds horribly cynical and judgy. Maybe it is. But it's also horribly accurate. I know because I've been the naive perpetrator of it as well as a victim. But I digress.

From my experience in the Anglican Churches of the Diocese of Cascadia, and in my preparation for becoming a priest in this Diocese, the words, the physical postures, the involvement of the people of the church, all of the parts and pieces that make up the Ordination of a Priest have this intention: to make sure that the individual is a follower of Jesus who will lead others in following Jesus.

You can download a PDF of the BCP from the link below. Scroll to page 483 and follow along if you like. I'm going to be highlighting most of the elements that are unique to this service because I just need to share their significance. People need to know that there is more to church, to being the church, than what is typically available. Jess and I didn't know until we looked outside of our box.

Anglican Church in North America – 2019 Book of Common Prayer

The Presentation

It starts with people in the church. The people bring forward the person that they think should be a priest and preset them to the Bishop.

Really, it starts from the bottom up

At some point, a person says to the leadership of a church, "I think God is calling me to be a priest." Or, the people of a church approach the person and say, "I think God is calling you to be a priest." After a process of discernment, study, and prayer, by both the individual and the members of the church, along with some legal and needed requirements of the Diocese, the person is presented to the Bishop.

What does the Bishop have to do with it?

This is going to be a major oversimplification of some hefty topics so bear with me. Jesus appointed 12 Apostles to succeed Him in His ministry. The 12 Apostles laid hands on, prayed for, and endued others with the same commissioning, authority, and succession. These came to be Bishops, literally overseers or supervisors. They were pastors/sheperds of a church as well as overseers of a number of churches in an area as Christians multiplied. Timothy and Titus were Bishops.

Locally, Priests ("elders," those who preside over) were appointed to lead the local congregations on behalf of the Bishop. The Bishop is the chief pastor of all of the churches under his care, while a Priest is a pastor of one those local churches.

This is why the people, the laity, of a local church present a person to the Bishop for this office. The Bishop is approving and anointing this person to serve in his stead. This Bishop, who had hands laid on him by a previous Bishop, who had hands laid on him, all the way back to the 12 disciples, is passing that on. I find that crazy profound and powerful.

BTW, a good Bishop equips and deploys instead of micromanaging. Your milage may vary. But that's another topic.

As in many wedding ceremonies, the Bishop asks the church present to "speak now or forever hold your peace" when it comes to the person presented. If there is no objection, the Bishop asks the church, "Is it your will that (name) be ordained a Priest?" The church responds, "It is." The Bishop asks, "Will you uphold him in his ministry?" The church responds, "We will." Do you see the participation in this, the holistic nature of this, the mutual accountability in this? This is a whole-church thing!

The Exhortation

After the Bible reading, sermon, and Nicene Creed, the Bishop gives one final exhortation, or word of encouragement and challenge, to the almost-Priest. It has nothing to do with the talent of the person, the charisma or personality of the person. The middle-two paragraphs of the exhortation really stand out to me, at least today, the day before my own ordination.

Remember how great is this treasure committed to your charge. They are the sheep of Christ for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you will serve is his bride, his body. If the Church, or any of her members, is hurt or hindered by your negligence, you must know both the gravity of your fault, and the grievous judgment that will result. (emphasis added)

Therefore, consider the purpose of your ministry to the children of God. Work diligently, with your whole heart, to bring those in your care into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of God, and to maturity in Christ, that there may be among you neither error in religion nor immorality in life. Finally, equip and lead your Congregation to proclaim tirelessly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

These aren't just words; these are promises. These are weighty commitments. Going forward, when I hear about financial or sexual church scandals (or both), or instances of church leaders abusing people, I'm going to wonder; were the people committing these acts ever challenged with words like these? And if they were, did they mean them, or did they see repeating them as a means to an end?

The Examination

Last chance! One more Q&A with the Bishop in the presence of the church. Questions confirming if the person really believes that they are called, if they really believe the Bible, if they will be faithful to their calling, if they will defend and protect the church from false doctrine, a call to maintain personal Bible reading, study, and prayer, and much more.

If you are a already a pastor, priest, church leader, I would encourage you to read The Examination, reflect on how you are living and leading, and consider what might need some refining in your life. I know I will.

The Consecration of The Priest

Lastly, the Priest himself is consecrated, made holy, set apart for service, in the same way that any other material thing is set apart for special service. I don't mean that in the sense that this is no big deal, but that it's a very big deal. In our modern American church mindset of making Jesus as accessible as possible (which He did a good enough job Himself), we have diminished the idea that people, places, and things are sacred. Again, I digress.

The almost-Priest is prayed over by the Bishop who lays hands on the individual as the Bishop himself had hands laid on him (all the way back to the Apostles). Any other Priests or Deacons are invited up to also lay hands on the almost-Priest and pray. The Bishop anoints the almost-Priest with oil and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God."

The almost-Priest is vested (clothed) with a stole that represents the yoke of the Lord whose yoke is easy and burden is light. He is clothed with a chasuble (kind of like a poncho) which symbolizes charity (love expressed in service).

The Bishop then anoints the hands of the almost-priest with oil, blessing the hands to do the work of The Lord. He is also handed a Bible and given the authority to preach the gospel and serve the sacraments of communion. The last sentence in the consecration is,

Do not forget the trust committed to you as a Priest in the Church of God.

I mean, come on! Being a pastor/priest is not an occupation. It isn't a career. It isn't a thing to be that lets you be in the spotlight, or have any kind of power or authority (even though it provides these things). You are a servant, not a CEO. You are a Priest, not a planner of programs. You provide the truth and comfort of God's word, love, and forgiveness, not perpetually keeping the cookies on the bottom shelf. You are supposed to provide for others, not prosper from others.

These words are as much to myself as anyone else, by the way.

The now-a-priest(!) then has the option/opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist (communion) for the first time as a priest and as the one who is empowered to consecrate the bread and the wine. As a Deacon or a lay leader, that isn't the norm. (Again, that's a whole other post. It isn't a question of can or cannot, or power trips or control. It's one of what is typically proper and prescribed.)

One more thing

There are parts of the service where the almost-priest kneels before the Bishop, and even lays flat, face down on the floor for a time. These sound and look weird to modern American Christian ears and eyeballs. These postures seem demeaning and almost offensive. Americans kneel before no one! Maybe that's part of the problem. I won't be kneeling nor laying face down in submission so much to a man but as to God. Yes, I am promising to serve and obey the Bishop as the appointed and anointed leader of the church. But through the Bishop, I'm making these commitments to God Himself, as the Bishop has done himself.

I can hear the questions because I asked them myself. They all begin with, "Yeah, but, does a person really need/have to (fill in the blank) to be (fill in the blank)?" Once again, another post. But that question reveals something about us (or me). It reveals an unconsciously minimalistic attitude toward our relationship with God. "What is the least amount I have to do?" Imagine saying that to a spouse. What kind of marriage would that be? If that is your attitude about your job, what kind of employee are you? If we are supposed to be completely surrendered to Jesus, if we have died/are dying to self, then questions like that really reveal something about what we think of as total surrender. But again, I digress.

This is where my head is at T minus 20 hours and counting. Thoughts? Questions? Offended? Encouraged? Let's chat about it in the comments section below.



Related Posts

Members Public

What Is Anglican To Me

What do you mean when you say, "Anglican"? Lemme 'splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

What Is Anglican To Me