The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, newest member of St. Philip’s staff clergy, was ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests on Saturday, December 8, 2012. An ordination is a very special kind of service — liturgically complex, long, inspiring, full of symbolic action and meaning-filled ritual. Vicki’s ordination was no exception.
The ordination was celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith, Bishop of Arizona. Although he was acting on behalf of the Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor, Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina, which was Vicki’s diocese of canonical residence, Bishop Smith joked that Bishop Taylor was not altogether happy with him. Bishop Taylor wrote “I am very sad to not be able to place such a talented person as Vicki here, but the only thing that makes this okay is my admiration of and respect for Bishop Smith.” Western North Carolina’s loss is definitely St. Philip’s and the Diocese of Arizona’s gain.
- The entire ceremony was very regal, very much like a high mass in the Catholic Church. The presence of the Bishop and other statewide and local clergy added to the “special” feeling and added to the anticipation of what the day would bring. The service was very moving, very emotional, especially the portions when Vicki lay flat in a face-down position, symbolically showing her humility and handing over her talents and time to serve God. The backdrop of the choir’s anthems and their refrain of “Alleluia” before the Gospel reading was also very moving. It was truly a special day and the culmination of a long road with a lot of hard work by Vicki to reach a new pinnacle in her career of service to parishioners and the Lord. The service was 120 minutes in length but seemed to end all too quickly. The tradition, the pagentry, the colorful robes, and the Episcopal traditions I had not yet witnessed were both revealing and moving. It is a day I won’t easily forget. Congratulations to Vicki and congratutations to the St. Philips Parish for being blessed with such a wonderful member of our staff. —Doug Burke
Persons who are chosen and recognized as being called by God to the ordained ministry are admitted to the sacred order of priests (as well as the sacred orders of of bishops and of deacons) by solemn prayer and the laying on of hands. In the ordination of a priest, the participation of at least two presbyters along with the bishop is required. Thus, ordination is not an act by the bishop alone but an act of the Church, represented by the bishop, the presbyters, and the lay people in attendance. Those in attendance, the assembly, act in concert with its leaders to make the ordination a reality.
The opening procession of an ordination liturgy often uses the hymn “I bind unto myself today,” known as “St. Patrick’s breastplate.” Its lyrics are inspired by St. Patrick and his 5th-century ministry in Ireland, written in the style of a prayer for protection on a journey. Vicki, as is customary, began the service in baptismal garb. Her bare feet symbolized Moses’ experience of the burning bush: “remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3: 5).
The ordination service begins with the presentation. Mentors, colleagues, friends, and other important people in the ordinand’s life present the ordinand and attest to her fitness and preparedness to be ordained. The ordinand signs a declaration, which is witnessed and signed by the presenters.
- All ordinations are very powerful celebrations for me, and remind me of my own. Vicki’s ordination was particularly special in that it was the first ordination in which I was a presenter. It was an extraordinary honor to stand before the Bishop and say, in effect, “You bet! We definitely raise her up and want her to be ordained!” What continues to strike me, and even more so at Vicki’s ordination, is the laying on of hands and confirmation of ordination. I remember well the dual sensation of the weight of all those hands. At once, the enormous sense of responsibility; and again, the enormous sense of support. It is still a breath-taking moment for me. I pray that while Vicki may, too, feel that weight of responsibility, she may also feel the support. —The Rev. Susan Anderson-Smith
- Sue and I were deeply moved by Vicki’s ordination and honored to particpate in the service as a presenter and chalice bearer. Witnessing Vicki’s response to God’s call in her life made our hearts joyful and our minds rejoice with gratitude. God’s grace overflows all our expectations. Thanks be to God! —Richard and Sue Kuns
The Litany for Ordinations follows the presentation. This set of sung prayers both focuses on the ordinand and also includes all bishops, priests, and deacons; all of the faithful and those who do not believe; the mission of the Church; peace for the world and wisdom for its leaders; protection for those who are poor and suffering; and grace for those who have died.
The Liturgy of the Word includes readings and a psalm. At Vicki’s ordination, the Gospel was chanted by the Rev. Anne Strong, deacon. Next, the Rev. Charlotte D. Cleghorn, who had been head of Vicki’s discernment committee, provided an inspirational sermon. After bringing greetings from the Rt. Rev. Porter Taylor, Bishop of Western North Carolina, The Very Rev. Todd Donatelli, Dean of the Cathedral of All Souls, Vicki’s sponsoring parish, and the Rev. Rob Lundquist, Rector of the Church of the Holy Family, where Vicki did her internship, the Rev. Cleghorn took inspiration from the work of Dr. Brene Brown, a sociologist who is an expert in the field of shame and vulnerability. On a recent radio show, Dr. Brown had talked about living from a place of vulnerability, courage, and whole-heartedness; in particular, vulnerability being the heart of meaningful human experience. The Rev. Cleghorn called Vicki to be willing to be seen as a person who happens to be a priest, not a priest who happens to be a person. At the conclusion of the sermon she asked Vicki to stand as she administered her own set of ordination vows, asking Vicki, among other things, to live from her authentic self, to live courageously, knowing that courage is borne out of vulnerability, and to live whole-heartedly. (The sermon is available here.)
- The experience was profound for me both because I was going all the way to Tucson to preach and because I knew it was such a threshold event for Vicki. It was a strange mix of remembering my own ordination and anticipating Vicki’s transition to the priesthood. I felt honored and delighted to part of the celebration. —The Rev. Charlotte D. Cleghorn
In place of the Creed, the congregation renews their baptismal vows and then participates in a ritual called the Asperges. Through the Asperges, congregants are reminded of their own Baptism as they are sprinkled with holy water by the Bishop and other clergy via rosemary boughs.
- I was moved again by the participation of the congregation members in this important event for the Episcopal church and our church family. Being there to support Vicki in this significant step in her life was a blessing. —Geri Ashworth
Next in the service is the Examination and Consecration, beginning with the ordinand vowing agreement to a set of questions posed by the Bishop. Afterwards, the congregation prays for the presence of the Holy Spirit. At Vicki’s ordination, she assumed a prostrate position, representing a kenotic, or self-emptying, spirituality in preparation for being filled with the Holy Spirit in service to our living God. Prostration symbolizes complete submission to a greater authority, “flat out for God,” as Abram felt compelled to be when God announced his new covenant relationship with him (Genesis 17:3). Next the ordinand kneels before the Bishop for the Prayer of Consecration, while other presbyters present gather around and lay hands upon the head of the ordinand. After a loud “Amen!” from the congregation, the Bishop anoints the new priest’s hands, consecrating and sanctifying them so that they in turn may bless and consecrate.
- My own ordination to the priesthood took place at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on December 18, 1991. Since Vicki’s ordination took place so close to the anniversary of my own ordination, I found myself vicariously reliving my ordination as I participated in Vicki’s special day. The music, the pageantry, the liturgy, and especially her vows took me back 21 years. The one exception was that my ordaining Diocese of Washington didn’t require those being ordained to prostrate themselves in front of the Bishop. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been able to lie down on the floor and get up as gracefully as Vicki did in front of all those people! Joining the other priests as we put our hands on Vicki was truly a Spirit filled moment for me as I felt the God given strength of all the priests surrounding her. I felt renewed, recharged, with the Holy Spirit, as I joined Vicki, my sister in Christ, in welcoming the Holy Spirit into her life as an ordained priest. Thanks be to God! —The Rev. N. Jean Rogers
Another inspiring and meaningful ritual at Vicki’s ordination was the binding of the hands by the Rector, which reflects the solemn commitment of the ordinand to bind herself to Christ, her hands to sacramental service, and her ministry to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.
- The most moving part of the ordination for me was the binding of the hands. This comes at a point where it really slows down the ceremony and allows a space for deeper reflection before moving on. I felt the binding ceremony, not at all common in the Episcopal Church, provided a solemn moment of poignant symbolism and almost Japanese simplicity of beauty. I have recommended the Cathedral introduce the ritual at all priestings where the Cathedral is the venue. —The Rev. Canon Mark R. Sutherland
- I was moved to tears during the ordination service, touched by the music, the liturgy, the symbolism and the solemnity. I thought about my own ordination and how it was both different and similar. Different in that Rabbis are ordained by their seminary, rather than by a specific congregation. My ordination took place during a Shabbat morning service—which was also our graduation—during which my two dozen classmates and I were individually called forward and the head of the seminary put his hands on our shoulders and said something (I have no recollection of what!). At that moment, with little fanfare and in turn with my classmates, I officially became a Rabbi. I also thought about the similarity of our experiences. The most vivid memory I have of Vicki’s ordination is of the Rector binding Vicki’s hands. I don’t know the Episcopal interpretation of this ritual, but what came to me was: “Bind me as a seal upon your heart” from Song of Songs. My own commitment to ministry and to the life of the spirit was powerfully reaffirmed during that symbolic, emotional moment at St. Philip’s. —Rabbi Helen Cohn
The binding cloth is called a “maniturgia,” and at Vicki’s ordination it was embroidered with the prayer “Veni, Sancte Spiritus / Come, Holy Spirit.” Karen Penn, from St. Philip’s Altar Guild, made and hand-embroidered Vicki’s maniturgia. It also bore the image of a Celtic cross and dove.
- During our Altar Guild meeting in early December I displayed my stitching handiwork of the maniturgia designed by the Rev. Vicki Hess for her ordination. “How many days were spent creating this project?” asked a former needlework guild and Altar Guild member. I replied, “roughly two days of planning, poring over design ideas, and lots of spirit.” —Karen Penn
Finally, the new priest is clothed in priest vestments and presented a Bible by the Bishop. The new priest offers the Peace of the Lord to the congregation. At the Eucharist which follows, the new priest helps distribute communion to the people.
- I’ve served in countless services, in one way or another, since childhood. But this was my first ordination. When I left my hometown diocese, they still refused to ordain women. So, finally being a part of an ordination service was a great honor. But being part of Vicki’s ordination, well, for me that was truly moving. —Serena Z. Hall
The service concludes with the new priest blessing the congregation. It is also considered a special spiritual gift to receive an individual blessing from the newly ordained priest after the service.
Of course ordination often includes another, less formal, celebration that includes refreshments (which at Vicki’s reception included Eegee’s in addition to champagne) and presentation of gifts to the new priest.
Bishop Smith’s delight in celebrating the ordination was obvious. “Priests get to do weddings, and bishops get to do ordinations,” he explained. It was definitely a joyous time for everyone present.
- Ten Words that describe my experience of Vicki’s ordination: Spirit-filled, Hopeful, Holy, Loving, Faithful, Peaceful, Joyful, Honest, Blessed, Wholehearted, Supportive, Inspiring, Eegees! (Oops, that turns out to be more than ten). —Laura Folkwein