My Priestly Ordination

Andrew Bishop's Ordination

It is high time that I got around to writing about my ordination – I promised Gwen Chiosso I would do – especially as we have now reached the three-month mark. As you can see from the photo at the end, the MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, who is Catholic and part of the local community, was there. You will probably recognise her name at least as she has been in the news a lot recently: when I was ordained, she was Conservative and now she is Labour.

In early April, after about six weeks serving in Dover where I had been based for over 5 years, Archbishop John Wilson sent me to my first appointment as assistant priest to St Edmund’s Beckenham. Canon Edward was kind enough to let me celebrate Mass at  St Stephen’s, Welling, in March and I was pleased to be able to see many old friends. How strange – but also wonderful – to be standing at the altar in St Stephen’s and being the celebrant rather than in the congregation!

As many of you know, my priestly ordination had been scheduled to take place last July in the cathedral, but I had to cancel it just ten days before due to a health crisis. My prostate was not cancerous but had grown to a ridiculous size, causing a crisis. Instead of being ordained I found myself being admitted to hospital and having to have a catheter fitted, not exactly what I had planned. After a laser operation in October, I had made as good a recovery as can be hoped for, and for this I am grateful. With hindsight, the decision to cancel the ordination was the right thing to do, but I must admit it was a very difficult time, not only because of the physical discomfort and pain, but also spiritually. I had prepared for ordination for years in the seminary and when it had to be cancelled, I naturally questioned why. I still do not know the answer, but I expect it was teaching me things I needed to experience for my ministry. I will have to minister to quite a number of people who are having serious health issues, for example.

The Archbishop and I decided that the ordination in February should be in St Paul’s Church in Dover rather than the cathedral as a sort of thank you to the good parishioners of Dover who had accompanied me for over five years on my journey to the priesthood. I am sure it was a good decision and that St Paul had something to do with it. Paul is my middle Christian name, I was ordained a deacon in the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome and a priest in St Paul’s Dover. I have always enjoyed studying his writings that make up so much of the New Testament.

Andrew Bishop's OrdinationI think the moment from both ordinations that will ever remain in my memory is the time you lie prostrate on the floor – it lasts for quite a time – whilst they sing the Litany of the Saints. In Rome the weather was blisteringly hot, and I lay on a pleasantly cool marble floor. On that February day in Dover the weather was a lot cooler, of course, and it was raining as the clergy lined up to process into the church from the front door. In Dover I lay on the carpet they have, but it is so thin that you feel the edges of the tiles that lie beneath. It seemed to last for a long time, and it was surprisingly peaceful and private as all this ceremony was going on around me.

With the priestly ordination comes the anointing of the hands with chrism; the hands are then wrapped with a cloth – a “maniturgium”- you keep as a reminder. Traditionally you give it to your mother to be buried with her – to show she has given a son to the church – but my mother passed away a few years ago, so I shall keep it. My father died over thirty years ago so he won’t receive the stole I wore for my first confession either. But I have offered Mass for them. As all the priests present lay their hands on you after the bishop, and as the priests also subsequently exchange the ritualised kiss of peace with you, there is a real feeling of being welcomed into the priestly brotherhood. And for the first time you are able to recite the Eucharistic prayer with the bishop as the Mass continues.

Nevertheless, it is probably in the days that follow that you really come to terms with the change in your status the ordination has made. The next morning, as I was sitting with my family and friends chatting, there was a knock on the door. Someone was asking for the parish priest by name requesting Confession. “He’s gone out,” I said. The reply came back, “Is there another priest?” The previous morning, I would have answered “No”, but I obviously couldn’t lie. And this way I heard my first Confession.

As for saying Mass it is both wonderful and strange to be saying the words of Consecration, “Can that really be me saying that?”

What is the hardest thing about saying Mass? All the changes in translations over the years. I honestly can’t recite the Creed, for example, without reading attentively:  we believe versus I believe, seen and unseen versus visible and invisible, of one being versus consubstantial etc. In fact for me as an “old man but a baby priest,” even the version from the Book of Common Prayer from my Anglican childhood seems just fine: in my head very God from very God…..Holy Ghostthe quick and the dead.

However, these are just passing and unimportant irritations. It would be boring if there were never any challenges or changes. We are on a pilgrim journey towards our heavenly home and ordination was never going to make everything easy!

You can find more photos of the ordination here by clicking on the link:

Fr Andrew Bishop
Andrew Bishop's Ordination
My priestly ordination in Dover on the Feast of St Polycarp, 23rd February 2024. On the left, as you look at the photo, stand my brother Ian, and my niece Rebecca, and on the right next to Archbishop John, Natalie Elphicke the MP for Dover. Father Leo Illah, the Parish Priest of Dover, is on the left wearing a cassock and cotta, and the parish deacon, Barry Barton, is on the right holding the book of the Gospels.