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“Let no one despise your youth…”: A Response and a Rebuttal

February 14, 2011

“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

~1 Timothy 4:12

In this passage, Paul writes to his protege, young Timothy and encourages him to persevere in the face of those who would tell him he is not old enough to be a minister of the Gospel.  He encourages him to be an example to all people, young and old alike.  It is from this passage that I have often preached to Happening kids at Happening closings (Happening: an Episcopal high school spiritual renewal weekend that our diocese lamentably does not actively have).


Fr. Randy and Fr. Edwin

I recently celebrated with joy the ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests of several colleagues of mine, here in the Diocese of Pennsylvania – two out three of whom were under the age of 35.  Fr. Randy is pictured to the right with his friend, Fr. Edwin.  Mtr. Callie processed in her ordination procession with her husband, Fr. Phil behind her, carrying their two month old daughter.

All of which, and more besides, is why I become angry when I read things like I read on CNN this morning.  Here is a link to the article: Baby Boomers Flood Seminaries.  I take umbrage with the article on several points.  First, it asserts that the under 30 crowd dominates seminary classes – well not in the Episcopal church, folks, at least not in my seminary and not since about 1950 and before.  Most of the folks I went to seminary with, and fine folks they were too, were over the age of 40.  I think our age range ran from 22 to 63.

I learned much from my older classmates and those who went on to become ordained leaders in the church are excellent priests, faithfully leading their flocks.  I also learned a lot from my colleagues who were closer to my age (I am currently 29), and of those who went on to be ordained, they also are excellent priests, faithfully leading their flocks.

The point of ordination is not that, as the article seems to suggest and some of the commenters explicitly state, you can fulfill a life long dream.  Rather, the point of ordination is being faithful to the call God has given you, whenever that call comes.  Some of us answer that call right away; others spend years running the other direction; still others receive the call later in life.  Who are we to know the mind of God?

Look to the scriptures: Jeremiah 1: 6-7, “Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you…”

You might also see the passage I opened with at the top, or 1 Samuel 3, or 1 Samuel 16, or Daniel 1, or how about to Jesus, who died at the age of 33!

Ordination is a Sacrament.  That means that what we say and do at it is only the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that is happening.  The Lord gives to His servants at ordination the gifts they need to accomplish the tasks which He sets before them.  In theological terms, we call this an ontological change.  None of us, regardless of age or experience, is of his or her own self capable or worthy to be the ministers God calls us to be.  No, naught but by the grace of God the Father calling us in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son,our Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit  can we do any of these things: counseling the bereaved, walking with those whose marriage is failing, sitting with the cancer patient, avoiding the temptations of authority and power and whatever else that silly article points out, let alone handle the sacred mysteries and the power present at the Holy Eucharist or washing clean all those who come to the sanctified waters of Baptism.  I think it was Annie Dillard who once cautioned that we should not wear ties and dresses to church, but rather hard hats.

And now I need to say something that will not make everyone happy and is admittedly overly-generalizing.  This is in no way pointed at any individual.  It is often, though not the exclusive province of, the Baby Boomers and to some extent the Gen-Xers who because of a narrow view of history and a myopic understanding of the powerful, liberating (yes, I’ll claim that word back, thank you) traditions of the Church and her ministers of the Gospel (all of whom are broken human beings, just like you) callously and carelessly throw away pieces of our heritage and our liturgies that they feel do not answer the exigencies of our “enlightened” age.  It is often because of what some call “white, liberal guilt” that we throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  I’m sorry you have a problem with authority and because of that have difficulty referring to the God of the Universe, who created the heavens and the earth and all that is within them, Lord.  But God is Lord.  And Jesus is King. And we are called by the Gospel to work for the up-building and the bringing about of God’s Kingdom on earth.  One day, sooner or later, we will all have to confront God on the throne, whether we believe God ought to have a throne or not.

Paul writes to his beloved friends at Philippi:

“Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

He continues, “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 9-13)

Regardless of your age.


Fr. Ryan+

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane Ellen+ permalink
    February 16, 2011 11:39 am

    Valid points, my friend. That said, and with all due respect, I think the broad brush you are painting with ihe incorrect. After all, it was the oldest two members of my seminary class who quickly termed themselves “Geezers for Jesus,” and one of the younger members who seemed most eager to take offense at any situation not deemed “inclusive” by his no doubt well-intentioned but misguided standards.

    In other words, the narrowly focused, “white liberal guilt” behavior you mention is hardly limited to the generations preceding you. Sadly, I found at our alma mater that it ran the gamut age-wise. Thankfully, so did a broader, gospel-oriented joy that truly was “inclusive,” in the best sense of the word.

    Me? I have precisely no problem with references to God as Father and Lord. At the same time, I am equally comfortable with the feminine imagery mentioned less often, but still present in scripture, as well as in some of the earliest writings of the saints. Perhaps this is because i have come to understand that the God who loves me “more than I could ask or imagine” is wholly beyond my feeble attempts to limit or circumscribe. Liberation indeed.

    • February 16, 2011 11:47 am


      “Perhaps this is because i have come to understand that the God who loves me “more than I could ask or imagine” is wholly beyond my feeble attempts to limit or circumscribe. Liberation indeed.” This is exactly what I mean by claiming the liberating power of the Gospel. Thank you.

      As for using a broad brush – guilty as charged. But I knew that – I felt like responding to the article in kind. I don’t think that behavior is truly limited to a certain generation and it certainly did run the gamut, age-wise, at our alma mater. Unfortunately, though, “joy” was not a word that would characterize my class most of the time. But that was a big difference between my class and yours, and really, between my class and the classes who cam after us. Ours was special like that.

      I think I am reacting most strongly to the notion the article made that going to seminary is solely the act of someone who is finally done with everything else they wanted to do and can finally live into their dream of being a priest. I was trying to say it isn’t a dream; it’s a calling, and that calling can come and be responded to by people of all ages, young and old. I was reacting to the lack of spiritual depth and understanding of the article – but that’s what I get for expecting such from a CNNbelief article.

      I hope you and you family are well in your new home – I miss our conversations and lively discussions. You were always someone I felt comfortable talking with.


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