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Priestly Meditations

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

The seven meditations below are based on the descriptions of priests/presbyters in the Church of England ordination service. Anglicanism, and in particular the C of E, is the tradition in which I was ordained and now serve. See this link for my completed Diaconal Meditations.


One of the ecumenical challenges of a priest is how to hold true to the ordination promises and Anglican tradition while also not implicitly regarding leaders from other traditions (such as Roman Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox, or Methodist) as second class.

We have all received the music of the Kingdom, but we dance in different yet overlapping ways. We all live in the narrative of the scriptures, but each tradition's authentic improvisation may differ. We are a global fellowship of differents, One in the Spirit and One in Christ. This is not to deny serious difference or theological challenges, but these meditations are not intended to score points or devalue the ministry of others, whether they be in other traditions or in vocations outside of the the church.


I also want to state clearly that as I composed these meditations, I am challenged to live more authentically the path to which I have been called. Where I have failed, I am sorry, and where my meditations below bear some resemblance to my life and ministry, I humbly say, 'Thanks be to God, tis' all of grace.'


'You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength,

but only by the grace and power of God.

Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged

and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.'


Rev'd Jon Swales, Oct 2023


Meditation One: 'The Servant & the Shepherd'



"Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and watch for the signs of God’s new creation.”- Ordination of Priests


"Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." - Peter the Apostle


The priestly calling, like that of the deacon, is to be a servant.


Priests are called to serve.


Many models of church leadership are used, and sometimes abused, within the covenant community. However, the priest’s primary calling is to servant leadership, and other models of leadership are legitimate only to the extent that they orient themselves toward the capacity to serve.


Toxic domination, closed systems, and command and control are not the way of the servant presbyter. Rather, priestly leadership is meant to embody the vision and values of Jesus, the servant King.


Power is never to be used to build an empire of ego but rather the compassionate and kind kingdom of God. Authentic priestly power is to operate within the context of relationships—a relationship with God in which power and presence are used relationally for the benefit of others.


This priestly service, characterized by self-giving sacrificial love, unfolds within and beyond the church's walls—at the Eucharistic table, during prayer ministry, on the factory floor, within prison cells, amidst hospital wards, in humble bedsits, during late-night phone calls, at school assemblies, in the crematorium and the graveyard; although the context may change, the priest remains constant in his service.


As a shepherd under the guidance of the great and good Shepherd, the priest is tasked with tending to the flock. Just as the great shepherd knows his sheep, and they recognize his voice, the priest should strive to understand their flock—comprehending their needs, hopes, pains, gifts, hurts, and aspirations. They are to lead their flock, in their joy and sorrow, to the table of the good Shepherd and accompany them, whether they are walking through the darkest valley with sorrow or enjoying peace beside still waters.


The shepherd-servant priest, in tender and compassionate care, is to keep watch over the flock and also be watchful for the signs of the new creation.


The new creation, the hope of the cosmos, was inaugurated in the life and work of Jesus and will reach its glorious culmination in his return and the reconciliation of all things.


The priest, like all members of the ekklesia, lives between two ages—the broken and the beautiful. They minister in the current broken age but remain watchful for the arrival of the beautiful kingdom, within their own lives, the covenant community, and the world.


Whatever challenges arise—especially in the current tragic context of church ministry taking place with the storms of climate breakdown and ecological collapse—the priestly calling is to be filled with hope. The priest waits and looks for glimpses of the kingdom while also knowing in their heart that the best is yet to come. The darkest day, as the cross followed by resurrection demonstrates, is never the final day.

Father of Creation,

Your Son, our Savior,

is the humble Servant King

and the compassionate Shepherd.

You have called priests to serve your people

and tend to your flock.

By the power of your Spirit,

empower Priests to nurture and care for your flock,

to discern the dawn of your kingdom,

and to wait in active hope for the reconciliation of all things.


Amen


Meditation Two: 'Mouthpiece of the Almighty'




"They are to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and admonish, to feed and provide for His family, to search for His children in the wilderness of this world's temptations, and to guide them through its confusions so that they may be saved through Christ forever."- Ordination of Priests




"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord,' he said, 'you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.'" - John the Evangelist


The priest speaks, looks, and discerns- for this servant-shepherd is to be a herald, a sentinel, and a custodian. As a herald and messenger, they are to teach, train, and feed the flock so that they may be formed into the likeness of Christ and live lives full of kingdom purpose. The priest speaks because she knows Him who has the words of eternal life. She holds fast to the promises of God, and shares this voice and hope with others, that it may be a lamp to their feet in the day-to-day living, a source of strength when the storms of life enfold, and a lamp of wisdom on the path of life.


The priest, being mindful of power dynamics, for they remain a servant, is to see herself as a parent to the souls within his care. Like a loving father, or mother, she will take active responsibility to search for her children if they go off to the far country. The lost, the broken, and the backslider are not only on the heart of the priest and in her prayers, but she takes active steps to go into the wilderness, in the likeness of the Good Shepherd, to bring back the wanderer. And when, through the mercy, grace, and love of God, this happens, she rejoices with the angels of heaven.


Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.


‘Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

-Micah, the Prophet


The servant presbyter is on a journey of transformation.


The priest is not ordained as the final product but is one who is formed and shaped.


Human beings, from the moment they are born, are influenced by their context, which includes the worldview and ideologies of their age. The myths of the dominant culture, through stories, rituals, songs, and symbols, shape individuals and communities, and in doing so, become embodied, for good or ill, in lives that enact the vision and values of the myth.


The priest lives in a world shaped by the myths of individualism, unrestrained capitalism, militarism, and consumerism. Yet the priest, time and time again—particularly through the daily office—allows himself to be shaped, formed, and restored by the word of God, the metanarrative of mercy found in holy writ, which is the true story of the world.


A story that finds its high point in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A story that begins with a good world and ends in the reconciliation of all things. This story, these scriptures, when read through the lens of the Word enfleshed—for He is our compass and guide—provide a foundation from which he can minister and serve others.


From this perspective, and in the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus, the priest is able to call others to repentance.


Jesus himself did this when he said, 'The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.' The kingdom, the King, the good news, requires, for those who have been living out an alternative narrative, repentance, a turning about, a paradigm shift which recognizes that one must orient oneself to the new and better story.


A turning from - from sin, shame, despair, hoarded wealth, violence, guilt, idolatry, and domination - and a turning to hope, glory, peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.


The priest, following in the footsteps of the prophets of old, the ministry of Jesus, and the praxis of the early church, is to speak clearly about what one is reorienting their lives to - that is the gospel, the kingdom, and the King - but is also to name clearly, with pastoral sensitivity, the individual and corporate sins and idols which one should renounce.


The priest, as an ambassador of Jesus, serving as a guide to the kingdom, is tasked with proclaiming words of forgiveness.The priest must decrease, that the High Priest who brings forgiveness may increase, for he, the ordained priest, is a humble mouthpiece for the Almighty.


In this role, the repentant doesn't look to the priest's character or abilities for forgiveness. . Instead, they recognize that the priest is simply and humbly a conduit for the one who, through his own death, dealt the death blow to sin and death. Jesus, who sacrificed himself for our sins, speaks through the priest, granting forgiveness, removing shame, offering a fresh start, and awakening us to the true story in which we find ourselves.


Father of Creation,

The God who forgives,

You have called priests to be messengers,

watchmen, and stewards,

Who feed and provide,

And serve and guide.

By your Spirit, would you empower your priests

as ambassadors of the kingdom,

To be a mouthpieces of the Almighty

and to embody the love of Christ.

Amen.


Meditation Three: 'Storytellers of Divine Love'

‘With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. ‘ - Ordination of Priests


Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God ...Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another ... Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.... God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them- The First Epistle of John


The presbyter joins with the covenant community in declaring and embodying the story of God’s love. In years gone by, both pulpits and people have at times narrated a different story about God.


At times, God has been described as an indifferent absent landlord; at other times, as the puppet master of pain (cloaked in the garbs of meticulous sovereignty); or as the whack-a-mole God who smites illness and catastrophe on sinners and saints. Yet the priest, with eyes fixed on Jesus, knows that God is Christlike, and in Him, there is no un-Christlikeness at all.


God is love, a holy trinity of Love. At the very heart of God, flowing from His divine center, is the eternal love of the trinity. The Father has always loved the Son and the Spirit. The Son has always loved the Father and the Spirit. And the Spirit has always loved the Father and the Son. A Trinity of Love in which everything they do comes out of that place of love, affection, commitment, and fidelity.


The Christocentric Trinitarian priest knows that God is not a moral monster; He is love. God is not an absent landlord; He is love. God is not a puppet master, bringing evil and pain to the world; He is love. God is not wrath, God is not violence; He is love.


He has always been love, He is love, and will always be love.


This is the priest's story; this is his song. This is the triune love into which sinners are baptized, raised, reconciled, and nurtured to walk the way of faith, the way of love, the way of Christ.


Father of Creation,

God of Love,

You have called priests to proclaim the

story of God's love in both word and deed.

By Your Spirit, empower them to live

and serve as beacons of love,

so that others may listen,

repent, be baptized, and

walk the way of Christ.

Amen.


Meditation Four: Preach the Word



They are called to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God." – Ordination of Priests


"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For a time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, desiring to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires. They will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

– Paul the Apostle in a letter to a younger leader, Timothy


The priest declares and unfolds the Scriptures. With due note of the lectionary and liturgical calendar, the priest lays out a multi-course banquet for the people, sharing and preparing sustenance and nourishment from the multiple books and genres of Scripture. Aspects of the meal may include different starters and mains, the Old Testament and the Gospels, different textures, different flavors, the poetry of the Psalms, or the shock and awe of the Apocalypse. However, this diverse meal is the one banquet of Scripture.


In other words, the priest draws from the heavenly back catalogue to present and represent the symphony of salvation. Different instruments, different tempos, recurring themes across multiple movements build to the Christocentric climax of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The priest unfolds the Scriptures to their flock so that they may feast, sing, and dance.


The priest preaches the Scriptures, not only during expected times such as Sunday worship, but also speaks at unexpected or less-welcomed moments. Prearranged meetings, a knock on the door, a deanery synod, a school governors meeting, PCC, standing behind someone in the chippy, in court, at a police station, or by a hospital bed can be opportunities to speak, out of season, but in the kingdom, the word of the Lord.


This preaching, sometimes planned and sometimes spontaneous, can be both encouraging and challenging, or can even carry a prophetic rebuke.


Jesus, the Galilean prophet and preacher, serves as the model for the priest. In his life and witness to the kingdom, we see him addressing both large crowds and individuals. His messages at times take an unexpected turn, such as when he said, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.' At other times, his prophetic messages offer both challenge and comfort, depending on whether the listener aligns with or opposes the vision and values of the kingdom—'Blessed are the poor, woe to you who are rich!'


The priest may well draw on conventional wisdom or from the deep wells of academia. They may dance from the pupilG’s with poetry and philosophy or stand on the shoulders of the giants in their use of theology or apologetics. They may also lead a congregation quietly through a spiritual exercise—and each of these has its place. But the shepherd-priest must remember that their message is declaratory, and what it declares are the mighty acts of God. This hope-filled, confident articulation, with Christ and the Gospels at the center, serves as a reminder to the flock that we do not live in a closed system. Rather, God, who is not merely a philosophical abstraction or outside of time, is at work in history, active in the present, and is a dynamic presence and shepherd as we journey into the future.


Father of Creation,

The God who speaks,

You have called your priests to preach the word

and declare the mighty acts of God.

By your Spirit,

empower your priests to speak

the words and wisdom of Jesus and the Scriptures

both in and out of season. Amen




Meditation Five: Body Broken, Body Blessed




‘They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.They are to bless the people in God’s name.’ -Ordination of Priests



‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.’- The Apostle Paul






Within the story of Anglicanism, with roots in the apostolic witness and the early church, the priest presides at the heavenly banquet and offers the bread and chalice to sinner saints in order that they may commune with Christ.


Long ago, the covenant community longed for the bread of heaven, the exodus meal, which sustained them day by day in their journey to the promised land. In Jesus, the liberator who leads us from slavery from the forces of domination, we see the one who is the bread of life—a body broken that we might have life.


Long ago, the covenant community looked to the temple and the high priest to offer sacrifice to atone for sin. In Jesus, our great high priest, we have a sacrifice for sin. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.


The priest participates in this holy mystery, a memorial in which the benefits of Christ, achieved in space and time, are encountered afresh in bread and wine. In the Eucharist prayer, the bread and wine, through speech act, Spirit, and symbolic action, become the physical paradigm of encounter in which the humble believer communes with Christ. For the priest, this is holy ground, a holy calling in which heaven touches earth, and frail flesh encounters the divine.


Alongside liturgy, scripture, symbol and sacred song the presbyter leads the flock in holy communion in both praise and thanksgiving.- Praise to the Holy Trinity, the God worthy of all worship, and thankfulness for the life and hope brought to us in the embrace of the Father, the kindness of the Son, and the kingdom of the Spirit.


Alongside the joy of the Eucharist, the priestly task, again understood within the traditions and history of Anglicanism, is to pronounce words of blessing on the ecclesia. Divine favor, that is, blessing, is announced, articulated, and embraced as words are spoken. The community of sinner saints are reaffirmed into the reality in which they stand, confident that as they embark into the world for works of worship and service, they can do so knowing that they are enfolded and equipped within the triune presence. The priest, representing in some sense the priesthood of all believers, speaks humbly and authoritatively to the community, assuring them that they are not alone.


These words are not magical incantations but rather comforting words spoken which reflect the hesed, the covenant love, of heaven. The priest in corporate worship, in individual pastoral care, and at funerals and weddings, serves as a conduit for a tangible encounter, for both presbyter and listener, with the divine embrace.


Father of Creation, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son laid down His life

as an act of self-giving sacrificial love

and spoke words of blessing. By Your Spirit,

empower Your priests to live out their calling

so that the hope of Christ in bread and wine,

and the triune love through words of blessing,

may be bestowed upon Your people. Amen.

Meditation Six: Resist the Beast



‘They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death.’- Ordination of Priests





‘Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!’- The Prophet Isaiah




The presbyter knows in both her heart and in the tears of her flock that this world is not the way it was intended to be. Creation groans, as the vulnerable suffer at the hands of domination and exploitation.

On a daily basis, she prays in obedience, 'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,' and this rings true.


The love and life of the kingdom are only here in part, and there are many things that happen in this world which are the antithesis of all that is beautiful, true, and good.


The priest joins with the Psalmist in lamenting and grieving that which betrays morality and injures image bearers.

The priest's calling in this broken world, which seems overwhelmed by evil, is to take the path of resistance. Following the lead of Jesus, the kingdom bringer, she stands fast against Satan, injustice, and domination, and joins him in non-violent resistance that undermines, and works against, all evil and injustice. She speaks out and will not be complicit in her silence. In the face of injustice she is to be a mouthpiece and the hands and feet of the God of justice.


Although injustice and domination can be found in every generation, showing itself in racism, economic exploitation, and war, the priest at this moment in history is faced with a level of injustice, through climate breakdown, that the church has never seen.

At 1.2 degrees above preindustrial temperatures, we are already seeing an increase in fires, floods, and extreme weather. Sadly, we are currently on a trajectory toward a rise of 2.7 degrees by the end of the century.


The priest and her communities are heading into a world of mass starvation, mass migration, and societal collapse. This sobering future, the one in which a priest lives her life of mission and devotion, is rooted in inequality, unrestrained capitalism, and consumerism.


The priest, through servant leadership, is to resist this evil in thought, word, and deed, recognizing that it is the church's prophetic task not only to serve those who are trampled under the wheels of climate injustice but to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.


The priest should seek through prayer and action to avert the worst of what may be, and adapt in love to what will be, for this is what it means, at this late hour, to defend the poor and do justice.


For such a time as this priests are called to display the heart and skills of the prophet. This skill set, a gift of heaven, to be prophet with a pastors heart, will require a depth of courage- the courage to speak truth to power, to speak truth in a culture of denial, and to enact hope in a culture of despair.


Priests are to journey with the sick and the wounded, with those whose bodies and minds bear the wounds of the world. The shepherd priest enters holy ground when he journeys with those who walk through death's dark vale into the age to come.


Father of Creation, God of Justice, Your world is not as you intended it to be, Creation groans,

and evil stalks the land. Empower your servant priests,

at this late hour, to resist evil,

support the weak,

and defend the poor

until that day when all tears are wiped away.

Amen


Meditation Seven: A Beautiful Symphony



Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people so that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.’-Ordination of Priests



‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body,

though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. ...’- The Apostle Paul


Throughout his ministry, the priest relies on and is guided by the Spirit of God. Without this divine empowerment, the priest may soon find himself unable to fulfill his calling. However, with the presence of God as a guiding force, reminiscent of the fire and cloud of ancient times, the priest not only becomes well-equipped for his own ministry but also gains the ability to discern gifts in others.


The church is a symphony of praise, where the Holy Spirit acts as our conductor, and every member of the church has a unique part to play. Our gifts, much like instruments in an orchestra, contribute to the communal music, creating a symphony that glorifies God.


As the Apostle Paul tells us, the church represents the body of Christ, going out into the world to love and serve. However, our individual giftings and callings represent different body parts, with each part, whether it be arms, ears, or feet, holding intrinsic worth and finding purpose in its relationship to the whole.


The Kingdom can be likened to a dance, with the Spirit serving as our choreographer. Yet, each of us brings different moves and styles to the dance floor. It's the collective dance of the covenant community, rather than the actions of one individual, that truly authenticates the kingdom.


The priest, guided by the Spirit, discerns and nurtures these gifts to ensure the body functions as a harmonious whole, the symphony is exquisitely performed, and the kingdom dance is a jubilant celebration.


The presbyter shares with Jesus a deep desire for unity. In the Gospel of John, in his high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for those throughout history who will come to believe in him.


'I am not praying for them alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.'


These words serve as a source of encouragement for the priest of today. Jesus prays not only for priests but also for their flocks and the wider church. In his intimate prayer to the Father, he asks that all believers, that is, Christians, would be united, just as closely as the Eternal Father and the Eternal Son are intertwined. The Son resides in the Father, and the Father resides in the Son. Their lives, identity, mission, and purpose are unified in love; they act as one, yet they are distinct.

The priest yearns for and seeks this unity in the church, recognizing that Jesus himself states that it is through this unity that others will come to believe. This profound truth underscores the growth of the church being intricately linked to its oneness and unity. In another instance, Jesus links this expansion of mission, a form of evangelism without words, with the love that disciples have for one another - 'By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'


With humble confidence, the priest, acknowledging the uniqueness of his Anglican tradition and history, also strives to foster unity with other covenant communities. He acknowledges that we are stronger when we stand together and understands that it is the Spirit who guides us toward ecumenical unity amidst our diversity. We are a fellowship of differents, united in Christ by the Spirit.


The priest, along with the giftings of the ekklesia, is to edify and build up the body. Words, actions, and cultures possess the power to either wound and harm or uplift and nurture those who come to the church or are under the pastoral care of the priest. Sadly, church history is littered with instances where individuals have not found in the church that which leads to life.


The Spirit-led priest is sensitive to such issues and understands that one of his primary callings is to be tender and compassionate to all under his care, working and loving with the aim of building up the faith of the community.


Father of Creation,

The God of Gifts and Grace,

We give thanks that your desire

is that your church may be one.

By the power of your Spirit,

empower your priests

to follow the Spirit's guidance,

strengthen the body,

and labor diligently

for the unity of your church.

Amen.

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