December 16 finds me in the middle of a snowstorm in Port Rexton with my old friend, John Nicolle. Today, John marked the 30th anniversary of his ordination to the sacred priesthood on December 16, 1987 at St Thomas’ Church in English Harbour West in the Parish of Belleoram. He invited me to preach at the Holy Eucharist this morning. Bishop John Watton is also here.
John Nicolle and I go back more than 30 years, for we were classmates at Queen’s College back in the 80s, and lived next door to each other in Feild Hall. We were ordained deacons alongside each other at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s on September 6, 1987. Although our journeys since have taken us to different places, with John serving most of his ministry in the Diocese of Central Newfoundland, and me serving all of my ministry in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, we have always kept in touch and maintained a warm friendship.
I am grateful for this day with John. It’s been a good friendship. For even though we sometimes don’t see each other for long periods of time, whenever we do meet it’s as if there really has been no passage of time and we pick up where we left off: we recall the same memories, remember the same people, and laugh at the same jokes. John has a heart as big as all of Newfoundland and I am grateful for his goodness.
Reverend John renewed his ordination vows today with Bishop John, and in my sermon, I said that we celebrate today more than just the past 30 years. For John’s journey has been longer than that, and rich in many kinds of ways. True, a very special part of John’s journey has been in Holy Orders, but even the church does not contain all of his story for he has had a rich life as a priest, a son, a brother, and great friend to many. We celebrate and give thanks for many things today in John’s life.
Occasions like today remind me that I am getting older. Like John, I have been “in harness” over 30 years now and when you consider that I was only 24 when first ordained, far more than half of my life has been in Holy Orders. We are both far closer to retirement now than we are to the beginning of our ordained ministries. Young pups have a way of becoming old dogs with time. I like to think that with the passing years we have both grown in wisdom and in the stature of Christ. Thirty years later I still cannot imagine doing anything else with my life even though the journey has not been easy. Life as a member of the clergy today requires a hearty faith, resilience of spirit, and the capacity to change. Three decades have left me with fewer certainties then I had at the beginning, although some things I believe even more profoundly.
Journeys have a way of changing you.
I have always loved the poetry of Robert Frost. In his poem, Into My Own, he wrote of stealing away into a dark forest. Should any friends follow him after his departure, “They would not find me changed from him they knew – Only more sure of all I thought was true.”
Into My Own by Robert Frost
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him the knew--