June 27, 1987: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
It seems as though I have been sorting, filing and organizing for months. There have been numerous trips to Goodwill, calls to friends saying, “Would you like…” and the trash cans have been filled on a regular basis. Now I’m down to photographs and ephemera. In one box, along with some leaflets and photos, I came across four VHS tapes with smeared labels. Now, I know it is hard to believe, but I do not have a VHS player hidden away in the basement. So, I contacted a firm whose main business is transferring taped formats to digital files on a flash drive. On Friday I received a text to say that the work was done and I could pick up my tapes and the flash drive. On the ten minute drive to retrieve the items, I wondered what I would find.
Returning home, I went to my office and inserted the flash drive in my MacBook. I clicked on the icon and there were the four digital files. As I made my way through them, I realized that they all dated from the late 1980s when I worked in Detroit. One was a short film my wife had produced for the Cathedral School in the Woodward corridor. Another file contained two television programs I had appeared on in my role as the Episcopal Chaplain to Wayne State University. Yet another recorded an address I had given to a national meeting of Church Women United. The final file, however, contained a surprise. It was a video recording of my ordination to the diaconate on June 27, 1987 in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit.
I say that it was a surprise for a number of reasons. In the first instance, I could not remember the service being recorded or being given a copy of the video tape. What I saw in the course of the service, however, was even more surprising given the current state of the church in America.
On that June day in Detroit, seven of us were ordained as deacons. Six of us were ordained as transitional deacons (that is, we would be ordained priests after a set time in the diaconate) and one was ordained as a permanent deacon (that is, they remained in the status of a deacon to exercise a ministry of service). All seven of us had undergraduate degrees, postgraduate seminary degrees and all had taken and passed the General Ordination Examination of the Episcopal Church. Of the seven who were going on to the priesthood, at 34 years of age, I was the oldest, although I already had exercised several years in ministry in other church bodies. For all six of us, the ministry was not a second career. All of us going on to the priesthood, including myself, would spend the next six months to a year under the tutelage of an older priest learning the practical aspects of the ministry.
I had at least a passing acquaintance with all those being ordained that day. Theologically they were liberal, conservative and middle of the road. As to their politics, I could not tell you, simply because the subject was not discussed. Indeed, if I had to make a guess of the politics of those most intimately involved with the ordination, I would probably get it wrong. Our ordaining bishop, Coleman McGehee, was known for his liberal views, but he was a World War II veteran, a former deputy attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and had been the pastor of Gerald and Betty Ford. The Dean of the Cathedral (later Bishop of Tennessee), Bertram Herlong, was thought to be a conservative, but during his time in Detroit he established schools and retirement facilities in concert with the majority African-American community and fought for social justice causes. I knew both men. They were often guests in my home and I considered them friends. Partisan politics had no part to play in our friendship or fellowship.
As the camera swept the vista of the Cathedral, there was yet another surprise. The Cathedral was filled to overflowing. The first three rows of pews were filled with priests from the diocese, most of whom did not personally know those who were being ordained, but were present to participate and to show their collegiality. Moreover, the Cathedral congregation extended far beyond the families and friends of those who were being ordained. The presence of so many was a testimony to the familial nature of the church.
People in their late twenties and early thirties giving themselves over to first, preparation and then to a life of ministry. The absence of politics. A church filled to overflowing… participation, family and collegiality… As memory can play tricks on you, I’m glad that I’ve got it on film.