Through Advent With The Apocalypse: 23/12 – (25) My Own, Personal, Apocalypse

This Advent, in the Year of the Great Pandemic 2020, it seems appropriate to look at The Apocalypse – that is, The Revelation of John. This is the next to last of twenty-six short reflections.

Me in July 2014. Short hair, no beard, and a few more pounds than now. Original caption: The Rev. Bruce Bryant-Scott, rector at the Parish of St.Matthias Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C. Tuesday July 15, 2014. Reverend Scott joins other faith leaders in Victoria and across the country who are speaking out against a federal prostitution bill which recently passed and say it will increase potential dangers for sex workers. Credit: Chad Hipolito/Maclean’s

I have a new spiritual director. Like my doctor and dentist, she is younger than me, but that is what happens when you get into your late fifties – the people who minister to one’s needs are always younger. We have only met by Skype, but perhaps someday we’ll meet in person.

I was baptised 58 years ago today. I was just over six months, having survived operations at six weeks for pyloric stenosis and a resulting hernia.

I seem to be spending much of my time with her discussing my calling and my vocation. I was baptised fifty-eight years ago this very day, so I continue with that calling. I do not know what the service looked like in Bethel United Church in Grand-Mère, Quebec in 1962, but I assume some promises were made on my behalf. The whole sense of “baptismal calling” really only came into prominence in theological circles after that time. It was always there, but there was a sense that the clergy were the professional Christians. As an adult in university I started hearing about baptism as our primordial calling, that we were a royal priesthood. The services of baptism in The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada (1985), based on those in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer (1979), what it called the Baptismal Covenant, which was an explication of what was implied in the propositions of the Apostles Creed:

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.

A few years ago a further question was added by the General Synod (one I was at, I think, perhaps 2013?):

Celebrant Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the earth?
People I will, with God’s help.

Where did the words of the covenant come from? I asked a liturgist and was surprised to hear that it had come from a lay person in the Episcopal Church. It came to her, she said, as a revelation – an unveiling, or an apocalypse of what baptism actually does.

  • In the first promise we commit ourselves to being part of the church, where we continue in the apostles’ teaching (symbolized by the apostolic succession, and the use of the Apostles’ Creed), participation in communion, and prayer in private and community.
  • In the second we commit to resisting evil. While this may be read as simply personal, it may also be resistance against the forces and powers of society that divert us from the ways of God. Of course, we are in need of continual repentance, because we will always get something wrong.
  • In the third we commit to being evangelists by what we say and what we do. This is not just the preserve of clergy or special holy people, but the responsibility of every Christian. Each of us re-presents Christ in our daily life.
  • The fourth promise relates to Matthew 25, in which we are called to care for all around us, especially the hungry and thirsty, the sick and those in prison, the naked and the stranger. We are our brother’s keeper.
  • The fifth is something that could only have arisen in the era of the Universal Decalarion of Human Rights, but it again calls us to be on the side of those who are oppressed, whose dignity is not respected, and those who suffer from war and a lack of justice.
  • The new one, of course, arises in the growing sense that the unrestrained exploitation of the earth is causing damage to it, and that global warming will harm the most vulnerable.

I was ordained as a deacon in 1988, and a priest in 1989. Some people see ordination as something that comes down from God, and the paradigmatic order is that of the priest, who is an icon of Jesus the great high priest. Apostolic succession is important in this thinking – Jesus called the apostles, the apostles consecrated bishops, and bishops ordained other bishops, as well as priests and deacons. A deacon is often seen as merely a preliminary step to being a priest, and a bishop is kind of like a bigger, more authoritative version of a priest.

Well, no. As venerable as this caricature of ordination is, I adhere to a theology which argues that the three orders of deacon, priest, and bishop arise out of the laity, and are called to empower the laity to fulfill their baptismal calling. A deacon is an icon of servanthood, and is active in the world. The bishop has oversight over a part of the church, and the priest or presbyter is her or his designate in a smaller unit of the church. My calling as an ordained minister is not so much as to minister to the laity, or on behalf of the laity, but to provide the leadership necessary so that they can live out those six promises made in the Baptismal Covenant.

I have spent twenty-two of the past thirty-two years as a parish priest. I have been an assistant curate, a priest assistant, an honorary assistant, and an incumbent, as well as priest-in-charge for four parishes in transition. I have never quite felt that I have done everything that I should have done in the various congregations, especially the ones where I was the incumbent. The congregations did not grow, did not turn into mega-churches. I did not damage them either, which is always an accomplishment given the way some clergy behave, but at best they remained stable. I seemed to be more effective in crisis situations, as my time as priest-in-charge demonstrated.

I also spent nine of the years as a diocesan archdeacon and executive officer, working closely with the bishop and diocesan structures to accomplish their goals and objectives. This was where I seemed to be effective as well, surprising myself with my organizational abilities, especially in the midst of chaos. I developed a strange set of skills for a priest, becoming well versed in employment law and how to terminate and hire individuals, as well as issues in sexual misconduct and schisms. I was an honorary member of the Chapter of Deacons in the Diocese of BC, seemingly because I was one of the few priests who “got” what the real diaconate was about.

However rewarding this was, after nine years it was time to move on. After advertising the same parish for the third time over nine years, I was getting tired of that kind of routine. So I took an unpaid leave of absence to start reading in preparation for doing some PhD work (which, eight years later, is still ongoing . . . ). I was restless, and when the opportunity to do something really different – work in the Diocese in Europe, in the Church of England, living in Greece – I jumped at it with alacrity. God was telling me that what I was supposed to do in the Diocese of British Columbia had come to an end.

But looking back on those first thirty years, what stands out is not what happened in the parishes, but the work I did off the side.

  • As an assistant in St Catharines, Ontario, I helped set up something called the RAFT (“Resource Association For Teens”). I am pleased to say that more than twenty-five years later it is still going strong, working to help youth at risk.
  • On Pender Island I helped facilitate the move of the food bank into the attic of the church hall. Twenty years later, it is still there.
  • My friend Marion Little got me involved in 2014 in advocating for sex workers. The Supreme Court of Canada in 2013 threw out legislation criminalizing sex work. The following year the Harper government introduced legislation that effective re-criminalized it again. As I researched the issue I realized that, while I did not personally approve of sex work as such, it made no point to criminalize it, thus driving the industry into the streets and shadows where they could be attacked and abused, and, in several notorious cases, become the objects of murder by serial killers. I came to the conclusion that sex workers were less likely to be underage or trafficked if it was decriminalized and unregulated, and simply treated as any other type of labour. So, I wrote up a petition, and got some thirty-some colleagues to sign on (including some nuns in Toronto). Clergy supporting the rights of sex workers was a little unusual, and I wound up in an article in Macleans, Canada’s news magazine. the act went through anyway, and I am waiting more than six years later, for the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau to abolish the law.
  • Most important of all is the work I did with the Refugee Committee of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. In September 2015 three members of a family died trying to cross over a channel between Turkey and Greece; the photograph of one one of them dead on a beach, the toddler Alan Kurdi, went around the world and opened up the borders for a year or two to compassionate Europeans and others. There was a Canadian connection – the Kurdi family had tried to go to Canada, and arrangements were being made by a sponsorship group in Vancouver, but the paperwork was complex and the application was rejected on a technicality. In response to this Canadians decided to also open up their borders and their wallets to privately sponsor refugees. Subsequently some 60,000 came in the following year, and it became a major issue in the Fall 2015 election. I devoted myself to creating new sponsorship groups on Vancouver Island, and ultimately there were over 50 groups with something like 500-600 volunteers, all of whom need to be screened and trained. Some two million dollars Canadian were raised, and perhaps 250 people came to Canada because of the work of the Refugee Committee. This was probably the most important work I’ve ever done.
  • As Archdeacon and Executive Officer in the Diocese of BC between 2004 and 2012 I was involved in administering the Sexual Misconduct Policy – and thus advocating for the protection of the most vulnerable within our churches.
  • My PhD dissertation looks at the theologies that justified the taking of land from Indigenous Peoples and the subsequent attempts at assimilation and genocide under the guise of education in the Indian Residential Schools.

Do you see a common theme? Without intending to, a major trajectory of my journey in faith has been attending to the issues of the oppressed and marginalized in society. It is partly charity (an exchange where relationships of power are unchanged), but more directed towards justice (where people are empowered and relationships are transformed). As much as I sometimes wish I could just be an academic, the reality is that I really want to be part of something that changes peoples lives.

So now I am on Crete, in a half-time job that pays about a sixth of what a vicar would get in England. Obviously I am not here for the money. Part of the reason for moving here was the challenge of learning Greek and living in a foreign country. Another part was the hope of being able to travel, some of which has been realized, although the past ten months has really not allowed for that. Yet another reason was to have the time to write – to finish off that dissertation, and maybe write more popular works, of the type that is showing up here in my blog. I have had encouragement to collect the blogs into a book on Revelation, and my Lent 2019 series on the poems of George Herbert has been well received.

But what else does God want me to do here? We have generated a vision statement and mission plan for the chaplaincy here, and the implementation of this is slowly happening. But I cannot help but think that God is going to unveil something new for me to do in Crete, my own personal ἀποκάλυψις. And, perhaps, it will be found in kenosis, the self-emptying of God the Word into the person of Jesus Christ. Which will bring us to the last reflection tomorrow, on the last day of Advent, Christmas Eve.

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-bryant-scott-4205501a/
This entry was posted in Advent, Revelation. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s