A final class at St. Augustine

I teach my final class at St. Augustine’s Theological School. Next there is a study week, followed by a week in which the ordinands sit for exams.

The course – one of the three I have been teaching – is sacramental theology. I dash through the remaining sacramental rites, which I never managed to cover in recent weeks, wishing I could have more time. We look at An Anglican Prayer Book (1989), originally adopted in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa but in official use in the Church of the Province of Central Africa as well.

I have tried to point to that wonderful Anglican maxim, lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of prayer is the law of belief. Ask what it is that Anglicans believe, and we will point to our life of common prayer as our answer.

This is especially true, I say, as we look at the sacramental rite of Confession and Absolution. The rubrics of our Botswana prayer book have one of the best treatises on the doctrine of sin around, and the words of absolution declare our theology of ministry. Beyond that, I love the simplicity and power of the closing words of this brief liturgy: ‘Go in peace, the Lord has put away your sins. Pray for me, also a sinner.’ I urge these ordinands to approach this sacramental rite with reverence and humility.

I also point them toward the charge at the sacramental rite of Ordination. These words capture beautifully the ministries of deacons and priests. I ask that as the time approaches for their ordination, they will quietly read this liturgy, for it will help to prepare them for the sacred vows they are undertaking.

I plan to speak briefly about the sacramental rite of Holy Matrimony, but they become energized about the dual role priests assume, serving both legal and religious purposes (shades of discussions in North Carolina), and they want to talk about what is and is not appropriate. They disagree among themselves. I sit back until the discussion lapses into multiple simultaneous voices in Setswana. Time to move on.

At the end I decide to say a few words – well, maybe more than a few – about my prayers and hopes for them in their ministry. I have been blessed by spending these months with them, and I tell them so. Then I hand out ‘A General Thanksgiving’ from our American prayer book. It’s the one that my liturgy professor, Charlie Price, wrote, a beautiful prayer by a wonderful man.

I have always liked the sentence that reads, ‘We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.’ I remind them that they really have faced demanding tasks this year, and that they need to appreciate what good things they have accomplished.

And then there is the next sentence: ‘We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.’ I cannot recall any other prayer that gives thanks for disappointments and failures. It is a remarkable message carrying a sound theology that proclaims that which we believe. We repeat it together.

They take copies of ‘A General Thanksgiving’ away with them. Handout 15.