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On a wintry Colorado night, priest ordained outside amid the homeless at Common Cathedral

February 24, 2012

By The Rev. Marc Genty and the Rev. Patricia Sexton

It was a clear, bright, and cold full moon on the evening of December 9, 2011, when Patricia Sexton was ordained to the Priesthood at a park, outside in Longmont, Colo., but to understand the significance of this we must turn the clock back six months to Saturday, June 4, 2011.

From left, the Rev. Deacon Marc Genty, the Rev. Patricia Sexton, and Bishop Robert O'Neill.

It was on this date that Patricia Sexton was ordained to the Transitional Diaconate at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Boulder.

Prior to her ordination, Patricia had visited Common Cathedral, a Jubilee Ministry in Longmont, and after her ordination as a deacon, in discussion with Marc Genty, she began serving her diaconate there.

Common Cathedral is a Special Congregation of the Diocese of Colorado and has been in existence for almost four years. It is a Christian community of faith, fellowship, equals, and friends founded upon six theological tenets: 1) the inherent goodness of creation – Gen. 1:31, 2) the intrinsic worth of each – Mat. 25:40, 3) the radical equality of all – Gal. 3:28, 4) the primacy of community – Mat. 18:20, 5) the God who never gives up – Rom. 8:38-39, and 6) the Bible that is always relevant – Heb. 4:12.

Common Cathedral’s most visible aspect is the ecumenical worship service that occurs each Friday night at 6pm in a park near downtown Longmont, but there are other aspects of the ministry as well. During the months of her diaconate, Patricia served in a number of capacities from worship leader, teacher, and preacher to pastoral caregiver and counselor, and as the summer wore she became more and more a part of the community. In early autumn, Patricia and Marc approached Bishop O’Neill with the request that Patricia’s ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests take place at Common Cathedral at the end of her Transitional Diaconate period. Bishop O’Neill agreed and the date was set.

In the weeks leading up to the ordination, Marc worked with the congregation to prepare them for the service. The congregation studied relevant Biblical passages about calling, about gifts, and about the four orders of laity, deacon, priest, and bishop. During this time there were also guest visitors from each of these orders that allowed for additional discussions and teachings, and as the day drew closer, the sense of anticipation, excitement, and ownership continued to grow. The music was planned and practiced. The liturgy was designed. The meal was prepared. The greeters and liturgical ministers were trained. The decorations were laid out. Everyone felt a part and had a role to play.

That brings us back to the start, the evening of December 9, 2011 with snow on the ground, a full moon in the sky, and twenty-three degrees on the thermometer.  About 100 people came to the ordination, including contingents from St. Ambrose and St. Luke, many clergy, friends, family, and the Common Cathedral community.  The path to the park shelter was lined with luminaria, and the tables were full of candles.  The bishop’s staff had decorated his capa negra (black cape) with silver snowflakes, and everyone was bundled up in winter clothing except for Bishop O’Neill, Canon Andrews, Patricia, and Marc, who wore albs and vestments (with layers underneath!).  At various times during the evening, Bishop O’Neill traded his mitre for a ski cap, and he and Patricia put their gloves on and off as needed (see pictures below).  Clergy were asked to wear a red stole over their regular winter clothing.

The ordination service was altered slightly to suit the circumstances; for instance, we used Psalm 23 which was familiar to the community, instead of the recommended psalms.  We chose music which was well-known or easily sung with only the printed lyrics, such as “Amazing Grace,” “I Come with Joy,” and “Give Thanks.”  Members of the Common Cathedral community served as oblation and vestment bearers.  The Pollyphonics, a group of guitarists who play at Common Cathedral each week, accompanied all songs, strumming their guitars with bare fingers throughout the service!  Marc preached and Bishop O’Neill gave his greeting to the gathering.  The chalice and paten were from Patricia’s new church, All Saints Episcopal in Cayce, Diocese of Upper South Carolina, where she has been called as rector.  Communion was distributed, as usual, by clergy walking out into the crowd, including Bishop O’Neill.  After the service a wonderful meal was served by the good people of St. Luke’s, Ft. Collins.

The ordination was meaningful on so many levels:  for the homeless community of Common Cathedral, it was an honor and a pleasure to host the bishop; for the bishop, this unique ceremony provided an opportunity for him to affirm that we were on holy ground there, in the park; for Patricia and Marc, it was an affirmation of this loving community that exists despite having no building, no address, and no funding; for the un-churched, according to several who spoke with Patricia, it was an experience of the sacred.

We are so grateful to the Common Cathedral community, to Bishop O’Neill for taking on this adventure, for the support of family and friends and the Diocesan staff.  If you would like to learn more about the Common Cathedral or street churches throughout the United States, contact Rev. Marc Genty at mgenty@mac.com

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