By the time this column goes to print, they will have already started this new dimension of their ministry in the Church of Maitland-Newcastle.
No doubt, their ordination celebration, on Saturday 16 February, was a wonderful and large celebration. It is right and proper that it should be, and yet I cannot help but ponder why it is that we celebrate such occasions in the life of the Church – ordinations, religious professions, commissioning to formal roles within the life of the Church – but seem to downplay our celebration of the primary source of our ministry in the Church.
It has become the custom in the Church of Maitland-Newcastle for all our ordination liturgies – for bishops, priests and deacons – to begin with the ‘Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Water’. We do so as a ritual reminder that all ministry flows from our baptism, a baptism all Christians share, and not from anything else. All the Church, all the baptised, are called to ministry and mission, not just those who subsequently are ordained, or professed, or commissioned.
During February, I celebrated my twelfth anniversary of ordination as priest. It was, thanks to close friends, celebrated appropriately. Yet I have been engaged in ministry for a lot longer than just twelve years. Before I was ordained, I worked in parish administration, hospital chaplaincy, and volunteered in a number of parish-based ministry endeavours. I did not suddenly start doing ministry when I was ordained as deacon and priest. All of those endeavours, paid or not, flowed from my baptism, something that happened a lot longer than twelve years ago.
Yet I suspect that like many members of the Church, the anniversary of my baptism largely goes unacknowledged.
In coming weeks, our Church of Maitland-Newcastle will gather to celebrate a significant event in the life of those individuals who, for whatever reasons, have asked to be baptised as adults. Each year the Church celebrates the Rite of Election on the First Sunday of Lent in the Cathedral Church, which in 2019 falls on Sunday 10 March.
This celebration, which marks a formal step in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, also represents a significant development in the life of our Church as we publicly acknowledge those who will soon become one with us at Easter through the celebration of baptism and confirmation, and their admission to Holy Communion for the first time.
The Rite of Election, unfortunately, is not one of those highlights of the Church’s liturgical year. It does not normally draw a large crowd like an ordination or profession or commissioning. It is, however, something that perhaps we should celebrate with more solemnity because our catechumens (those who will be baptised at Easter) are about to join with all of us in embracing our common ministry that flows from our common baptism.
Would it not be wonderful to have a church full of people to witness the commitment of those who are about to embrace the call of baptism to proclaim the Reign of God in this place? I suspect it would be a wonderful way to celebrate not only the commitment of the catechumens but also to remember our own baptism and all that flows from it.
After all, despite the significance and importance of ordination, profession, and commissioning, our baptism is much more important.