One of the joys of being a bishop is presiding at the ordinations of deacons and priests. Ordinations are full of joy and promise, and new clergy are signs of hope for the Church. Ask any priest and they will tell you about the “holy huddle” of colleagues who laid hands on them with the bishop during the moment of consecration, and how deeply moving it was. Most clergy will not easily forget that experience of being covered in prayer!
We need more priests. We need pastors and teachers who will gather the people of God, preside at the sacraments of the new covenant, preach the word, and embody the love of Christ to a broken and hurting world. Our current clergy shortage means that we cannot consistently and reliably provide priestly ministry to every parish across our diocese. It also makes it challenging to create a list of candidates when parishes are in a selection process.
The shortage of priests has been particularly apparent during the pandemic, and I think there are several reasons for the dearth. First, I think the Church is not exempt from the overall labour shortage that is endemic across our country. As in secular society, we are experiencing the retirements of many baby boomers, and the “Great Resignation” of the early pandemic continues. Second, I believe concerns about the long-term viability of the institutional Church cause younger people in particular to think twice about their options as they test a call to the sacrificial life of a priest. With a decreasing number of full-time ministry positions, how can a young person contemplate a priestly vocation while also desiring to raise a family, especially with housing costs in the Greater Toronto Area? Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – I’m not sure we always do a good job of looking and listening for those whom God may be calling. How often do we talk about vocation or ask people whether God might be calling them?
Back in the 1980s, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto launched a public advertising campaign seeking to raise up new priests. The roadside posters had a simple slogan: “Dare to be a Priest Like Me!” with the telephone number of the archdiocese under the slogan. The poster showed the crucified Jesus in the foreground against the backdrop of the City of Toronto. Several priests – including the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Ottawa – credit this campaign for having stirred something within them to consider this call.
Can we also find creative ways to help stir that longing within others? Can we be more intentional about planting the seeds that will yield a harvest of new clergy for our Church? I will never forget the day I returned home for the Christmas break from my first year of undergraduate studies. Waiting for me at my parents’ home was a letter addressed to me from Bishop Taylor Pryce, former suffragan bishop of our diocese. I had been confirmed by him a few years before at my home parish of Holy Trinity, Thornhill and I had met him just a handful of times. The letter included an invitation to come and have dinner with him and others at the end of the Christmas break. When I arrived at the dinner, there were about a dozen other 20-somethings around the table, all there to hear more about ordained ministry and to share their own tentative sense of perhaps being called to the priesthood. At least three of the young people around that table went on to ordination in our diocese.
There are other opportunities, too. In some churches, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (“Good Shepherd Sunday”) is a day to focus on vocations. The readings for that day provide wonderful opportunities to speak about calling. I would love to see Easter 4 revived as a “Vocations Sunday” for our Church each year.
On May 10, I celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination as a priest. And what a ride it has been! There have been some very difficult moments along the way, but many more filled with the sheer joy and privilege of serving the Church of Christ. If I had to do it all over again, I most certainly would. There really is no life like it.
This Easter season, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the new life we have in him, I invite you to look around and see who God may be calling to be a priest. Perhaps God is calling you. If so, please do not delay in speaking with your parish priest or contacting Canon Mary Conliffe, who oversees our postulancy process. If you believe God may be calling you into this wonderful ministry, dare to say yes. Dare to be a priest!