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"The first cyberspace ordination"?
by Brian Reid
On Saturday, 26 June 1999, at Trinity Church in Buffalo New York USA, The Right Reverend Michael Garrison, Bishop of Western New York, ordained Ann Elizabeth Markle to the transitional diaconate. In ECUSA, canon law requires that a candidate for the priesthood first be ordained as a deacon; that is what the word "transitional" means.
Every year hundreds of people are ordained in churches all around the world. Anglicans Online is dedicated to identifying and reporting the online parts of the Anglican Communion; an ordination, with its requirement that the bishop lay hands on the ordinand, is about as offline as an event can be. So why are we singling out this ordination to the diaconate of a 47-year-old American woman to be the first ordination reported in Anglicans Online?
Ordinations contribute greatly to the future of the church. Not every new deacon will become an archbishop or presiding bishop, but every presiding bishop was once a new deacon and every archbishop was once a new priest. While canon law is the legal baseline for what our church does and is, the people who make that canon law were educated by clergy, and many of them are clergy. It all starts with an ordination. Every generation runs the risk of being the last generation for any church, and the selection and training of ordinands has a large effect on what the church will be. More than a handful of people have named Ann Markle as an example of where the church might be going, careening along in cyberspace and modern society. Why?
The sermon was preached by The Rev. Susan Keppy, who said "this may well be the first cyberspace ordination. It's certainly the first ordination I've attended that should have had a satellite downlink." What she meant by that comment was that Ann Markle is very well known in some corners of cyberspace, is a prolific user of Internet communication, and comes across with a very well-defined personality in her written style. Ann has mastered the art of being present in the intangible online world. And she probably meant "uplink;" she is probably not the master of the medium that her ordinand is.
I met Ann Markle for the first time at her ordination. I took a picture of her shortly beforehand; I think she's talking to one of her classmates from Yale Divinity School. I knew her well enough to want to attend her ordination because I have read literally thousands of email messages that she has sent over the last several years to the Cyberparish of St Sam, email@example.com. I'm quite certain I know more about her mind and her theology than I do of the two candidates that my own parish has sponsored to seminary in past years. There were perhaps 150 people in the congregation at this ordination, and at least 10% of them were folks who had never seen Ann before but who had gotten to know her online. Quite a crowd of cyberspace friends gathered.
Whether we like it or not, the Internet is having a profound effect on the nature of the Christian church, at least in first-world countries. Increasingly we share knowledge, opinion, and faith with people whose bodies we have never seen. While I am horrified by the very thought of a "cyberspace ordination," whatever that might mean, I am quite comfortable with using internet techniques to spread the word of God, to help people discern a calling to the priesthood, to help people study for the priesthood, and to "gather together" in the sense of Matthew 18:20.
Not everyone likes the Ann Markle that they meet online. She is, in that medium, forceful, direct, and aggressive. In person she appears to be no slouch: she won the E. William Muehl Prize in Preaching at her graduation from Yale Divinity School; Yale thinks she will be a good preacher. Perhaps not everyone liked Cotton Mather or Ronald Knox either, but they listened to them.
If you have the opportunity to attend an ordination, you should attend. They are wonderful events. The Holy Spirit is absolutely palpable. If your faith is wavering, an ordination will restore it. Well, since I've only ever been to one, I can't say if they are all like this. I have heard tell that ordinations in England are much less personal and much less emotionally intense than this one was. By the time The Reverend Ann Markle, God's newest servant, called out "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" at the end of the ceremony, at least 20% of the people present were weeping, including many of the cadre of older priests who had presumably seen it all. The actual ordination moment came just after the singing, in plainsong, of Veni Creator Spiritus. And wouldn't you know it, the Holy Spirit came. The Bishop put his hands on her head and said:
Even if I had gotten nothing out of the ordination, it was worth driving those 600 miles just to hear Deb Bly sing "Breathe on me, O breath of God." But it shouldn't have been so hot.
Go in peace, to love and serve the lord.
Thanks be to God.
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