On Ash Wednesday I worshipped at the Episcopal Cathedral. Since I am not welcome in my own tradition, I took the opportunity to revisit the place of my ordination. I hadn’t been back since that day in October, and I was wondering how it would feel to return.
The space was every bit as beautiful as I remembered, and the service was superb. The full choir was vested and sang with reverence. The Dean wore a cope and gave a thought-provoking homily as she radiated with joy. The Bishop, with crozier in hand, presided.
As beautiful as it was, I felt profoundly sad through the service. It was so very similar to the Roman Catholic tradition—the vestments, the order of the service, the music. Yet, it was like being at a best friend’s house when more than anything I just wanted to be at home. I did my best to be present with the people, to give myself over to the prayer, to allow God to minister to me in my sorrow.
When it came time, I filed up to receive my ashes. I happened to end up on the Bishop’s side of the sanctuary. The Cathedral has a communion rail, so I silently took my place on my knees alongside the others. When the Bishop approached, I could tell he recognized me. I was wearing my clerics.
His eyes crinkled from the smile beneath his mask. His expression put me at ease. I hadn’t fully realized until then that I was a bit nervous. In the days leading up to my ordination I received significant media attention to the chagrin of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. I was concerned that the pressure this created had permanently damaged my relationship with the Cathedral community. His smile said otherwise. Walking back to my pew I wondered if we would meet before the night was over.
As the final hymn began, the choir—followed by the clergy—recessed prayerfully down the center aisle, only to travel back up the side aisles and ring the nave of the Church in song. Exquisite. Once the music concluded, a final prayer was offered and the choir, then the assembly, began to disperse.
I stood at the outer edge of my pew for a few final moments of prayer. Then, at the very instant I turned to leave, the Bishop walked up. In one elegant move, he took off his mitre, fell to his knees, bowed his head, and said, “Bless me, Father.”
My jaw fell open. I was stunned into a complete and total silence. I looked down at his head and saw his little red cap. Is this happening? After several moments, I somehow regained a bit of composure. I placed my hand gently on his head, I closed my eyes, and after a very long pause, I prayed a blessing over the Bishop.
And God smiled.