Last Sunday, the Rev. Susan Slaughter was ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. This is newsworthy because her ordination took place in Ft. Worth. This is where things get a bit tricky. There are two groups purporting to be the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth. That’s because most Episcopalians there left The Episcopal Church just about one year ago. Here’s how the Dallas Morning News put it at the time:
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth officially broke from the Episcopal Church on Saturday, becoming the fourth U.S. diocese to withdraw since late last year.
Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker championed the move, arguing that the national church has strayed from orthodox Christian faith in various ways, including ordaining female priests, allowing the blessing of same-sex unions and having an openly gay bishop.
“The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. It’s been hijacked,” Bishop Iker said.
By about an overwhelming margin, clergy and lay delegates to the diocese’s annual convention approved seceding from the Episcopal Church and realigning with a conservative, Argentina-based province of the Anglican Communion.
You can find that Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth at fwepiscopal.org. The Episcopal Church maintains a presence there and you can find that Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth episcopaldiocesefortworth.org. When three-quarters of the members of the diocese realigned, property was divvied up so that those that remained with The Episcopal Church kept their property and those that realigned with other Anglicans kept their property. But the national church body sued for all of the property and that case is going through the courts now.
So there’s this ordination and Jim Jones wrote it up for the Star-Telegram. It’s a nice write-up that explains how excited those in The Episcopal Church are about the ordination. Here’s a bit about why:
The Fort Worth Diocese, under the leadership of Iker and other bishops, was one of the few to refuse the ordination of women, though the national church has supported it since 1976.
At a high point of the ordination, Gulick, joined by other priests, laid their hands on Slaughter’s head, and the bishop said, “Give your holy spirit to Susan; fill her with grace and power, and make her a priest in your church.”
Much of the subtext of the article is about the fact that Ft. Worth chose not to change its practice on the ordination of women when the national church body changed its teaching on the matter 30 years ago, but there’s very little discussion of that debate or an explanation as to why church bodies do or don’t ordain women.
But check out that last paragraph. The “high point” of the ordination is the consecration. Here’s how it looks in the Book of Common Prayer:
Here the Bishop lays hands upon the head of the ordinand, the Priests who are present also laying on their hands. At the same time the Bishop prays
Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to N.; fill him with grace and power, and make him a priest in your Church.
Now, unless the Ft. Worth Diocese has undergone a radical theological revolution, I’m pretty sure that the formula the bishop used was Trinitarian. It’s not that Star-Telegram completely misquoted the bishop, but you can no more write up this consecration formula this way than you can say that a new Christian was baptized in the name of “the Holy Spirit.”
These words mean a lot to Episcopalians and the precise wording of the formula is extremely important. It’s not coincidental that this Trinitarian blessing is a “high point” of the ordination. To make it into a blessing that doesn’t mention Jesus Christ and only mentions the Father via implication doesn’t do the rite justice. Oh, and the Holy Spirit has, in terms of Associated Press style, been downgraded to the “holy spirit,” as well. Tmatt will love that.
Now, the reporter Jim Jones is an old Godbeat professional, so I wonder if the quote wasn’t mangled by a copy editor or someone else in the process. I also note that this story says that Jones wrote it as a “special” to the Star-Telegram. I don’t keep up with these things as well as I should but I wonder where, exactly, Jones is now. He’s one of the religion reporters who goes way back to the era when religion coverage meant a lot of stories about mainline Protestants. He covered the beat well at the Star-Telegram — and for many years. He also wrote a column for a while.
For those interested in the story, there’s a real friendly profile of Slaughter — also by Jones — that preceded her ordination here.