‘My brothers,’ Bishop Metlhayotlhe Beleme asks, ‘do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a priest?’ Twelve, our first graduates from the St. Augustine Theological School, answer, ‘I believe I am so called.’ ‘Do you now in the presence of God and of his Church accept this trust and responsibility?’ Bishop Metlha continues. ‘I do,’ they answer.
Today, in Gaborone, at Holy Cross Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, marks the culmination of the long process of discernment and study and formation for these men. It’s the largest ordination held in the Diocese’s history, and is a major expansion of the number of locally-trained Batswana priests.
I am not here.
Our – the Diocese of North Carolina’s – absence is just one of those things that happens. It really is a stewardship issue. I am returning to Botswana in January to teach another term, and despite my having taught these ordinands in two previous years, and despite how much I would love to be present, it is not a good use of our resources, and no other options present themselves. So our Diocese is not here.
Representatives from another of Botswana’s companion links, the Diocese of Newcastle in England, are, and visitors from the Diocese of Tennessee happen to be here on this occasion. Some South African Anglicans have travelled up.
We are not forgotten, however. Bishop Metlha acknowledges the ‘tremendous assistance’ it has received from North Carolina, and he singles out now Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. He also kindly mentions me.
And the Diocese of Botswana rightly recognizes that ‘the primary success of the school and ordination of these men was made possible by Canon Professor James Amanze, Principal of St Augustine and Canon Theologian.’ It is his vision that began St. Augustine Theological School in 2012, begun truly as an act of faith. Today would not be without him.
But the focus today is on these men. I can picture them, their families present, excited by the prospect, relieved that this moment has finally arrived. The evening classes, day after day for three years, is finished. The decision of the Bishop is final. The previous week’s retreat is over. And now, they are to be made priests.
Besides relief and excitement, however, I hope they feel humility. In our Sacramental theology class I ask them, two years ago, to read ‘the charge to the priests’ in the ordination liturgy. I remind them of the seriousness of the words they will one day embrace. Now, at last, they are doing so.
They are standing before the Bishop as he says
You are called to make disciples, bringing them to baptism and confirmation; to lead the people in prayer; faithfully to read the Scriptures and proclaim the word of God; and to preside at the Eucharist with reverence and wonder. Like Aaron, you will bear the names of your people on your breast in intercession before the Lord. You will teach and encourage them from the Scriptures, and bless them in the name of God. You will help God’s people to discover and use to his glory the gifts he has given them. Like Moses, you will gladly receive counsel and share the burden of leadership with others. In love and mercy, remembering your own frailty, you will rebuke sin, pronounce God’s forgiveness to the penitent and absolve them in the name of Christ. Following the Good Shepherd, you will care for the sick, bring back those who have strayed, guide his people through this life, and prepare them for death and for the life to come, that they may be saved through Christ forever.
This ministry will be your great joy and privilege.
That remains, for me, a remarkable charge. Back in 2013 I ask them to reflect upon the ordination liturgy throughout their formation, readying themselves for this day. Now they are hearing this recitation of their calling by their Bishop.
And after all of these words, and acknowledgment of joy and privilege, the charge concludes with great understatement:
It is also a weighty responsibility which none would dare to undertake except for the call of God.
Give them holiness of life, wisdom and gentleness in their ministry, and perseverance in prayer, we all say in the post-communion prayer.
I am not here, at Holy Cross Cathedral in Gaborone. But I am in spirit.