For the choice of fit persons for the ministry
O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 256)
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Today is one of the Spring Ember Days, which fall on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent. If you look on BCP 256, you’ll see there are three Collects appointed For the Ministry (Ember Days).
On Wednesday, you might pray the first Collect, for “all who are now called to any ministry.” Today you might pray, as above, that the Church may choose “suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament.” And tomorrow, Saturday, the Collect bids us pray “for all members of [God’s] holy Church.”
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My grandfather, J. Rodger McColl, is pictured above. He grew up at St. Martin’s Church on the west side of Chicago, attended Western Theological Seminary (later Seabury-Western) in the 1930s, was the chaplain at the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in the 1940s, and served as rector of St. Augustine’s in Wilmette, Illinois in the early 1950s.
He was a fit person for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, even though that ministry ended in heartbreak for my family. He was deposed from the priesthood after having an affair with a woman in his parish, and sent to New York City — ostensibly to work for the National Church, but really to avoid scandal. He died in 1954, very shortly after arriving in New York, and it was discovered that he had a massive brain tumor. My grandmother (and later, my aunt) tried in vain to have him reinstated, but the Church denied their pleas. My grandmother was cut off from his pension, and I believe she never darkened the door of a church again. In the files of the Episcopal Church, there is only one piece of paper about him — it is as if he never existed.
There is no doubt that he should have been removed from his ministry; I taught for nearly 15 years on preventing sexual misconduct in church settings, and I believe that we must be clear and firm about protecting people from harm.
But people are never just one thing, never one-dimensional cardboard characters.
The day after he died, my grandmother received a postcard from one of his former parishioners with the following poem:
Prayer for Rodger – Remembering my First Confession
O flawless Christ,
redeem this man
whose gentle hand
briefly held the bleak world back;
whose cool clasp steadied, encouraged,
and retrieved me
from the beaten edge
of oft-repeated sins;
whose constant gaze
upon Thy face
gave forth such a light,
Earth’s curtain lifted,
and there, all-bright,
the peace he found for me. Amen.
Pray during these Ember Days that the Church may find persons fit for the ministry because of their constant gaze on Christ and suitable because of their steady, encouraging gentleness. Pray, too, that we may uphold them, sinners just like we are, in the redeeming work God calls them to.