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per saltum ordination

Direct ordination or not?

Priesthood is normally understood as church-facing/Christian-community-facing leadership. Priests gather and lead the Christian community gathering (breathing in).

Priests in the Church are called to build up Christ’s congregation,
to strengthen the baptised…
to be pastors…
to declare forgiveness through Jesus Christ,
to baptise,
to preside at the Eucharist,
to administer Christ’s holy sacraments.
NZ Anglican ordinal, Prayer Book pg 901

Deacons, on the other hand, are ordained to world-facing, sacrificial leadership. They lead the Christian community dispersed in service in the world (breathing out).

Deacons in the Church of God serve in the name of Christ,
and so remind the whole Church
that serving others is essential to all ministry.
NZ Anglican ordinal, Prayer Book pg 891

Currently, to be ordained a priest (church-facing leadership) you have to be ordained a deacon first (world-facing leadership). This is termed “sequential ordination”. If God is calling you to church-facing leadership rather than world-facing leadership – tough! So most people perceive deacons as apprentice priests. And those God calls to the diaconate (and not to priesthood) are regularly seen as people who haven’t made the grade and are stuck in their apprenticeship.

In the Latin Rite of Roman Catholicism (the majority of Roman Catholics), “permanent deacons” can marry (prior to ordination) and then regularly do priest-like ministry (church-facing, rather than world-facing) because of a shortage of celibate priests. [Other Roman Catholic rites allow for married priests and have a stronger tradition of a clearly differentiated diaconate]

(Unfortunately) I have regularly seen people who once said strongly they were called to the diaconate, after a period decide they were called to priesthood after all. I can only quickly think of one person, I know personally, called to the diaconate who has stayed a deacon.

[I am not in this post going to bring bishops into the discussion. There is an ongoing dispute about the nature of bishops:
Are bishops priests to whom we have delegated the authority to ordain (the position of St Jerome)?
Or are priests delegates of the bishop in the local congregation (so that when the bishop is present the priest ought not to function in that ministry - the position of Theodore of Mopsuestia)?]

As I wrote above, currently to become a priest one must be a deacon first. A different approach, “direct ordination” or “per saltum ordination” (literally “by a leap”) is the understanding that you be ordained directly to the order to which God calls you. If you are to be a deacon, you are ordained a deacon (the current practice); if you are to be a priest, you would be ordained a priest (not a deacon first). Some scholars argue that in the early church all ordinations were per saltum (see Hallenbeck ed. Orders of Ministry). St Ambrose’s direct ordination to the episcopate is probably the most celebrated story.

There seems a surprising amount of emotional energy invested in maintaining the status quo. We have probably all met bishops proudly (sic!) proclaiming “I am still a deacon!” Episcopal Cafe has presented two interesting posts about the emotional dimension against per saltum ordination (part 1; part 2).There is also a discussion about this in the discussion area of Sarah Dylan Breuer’s facebook page. Some theologians hold that per saltum ordinations would be invalid. What is your position? And in the comments area – why?

There will be a sequel to this post in the near future.

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30 Responses to per saltum ordination

  1. I never felt called to be a deacon. My sense of call was to the priesthood, but my time spent as a deacon taught me a lot more about how to be a priest than I would have ever expected. However if one is called to be a priest–then that is what they should be, and not forced to be something they are not called to be.

    • Thanks Colin – I wonder from your response if the value of your “time spent as a deacon” came from actually “being a deacon” or primarily from the “time spent”? Ie. Do you think the time would have been just as valuable if you had had an “apprenticeship priest” period, eg. working and stipended in a parish, but not having been ordained a deacon first?

  2. The moment I accepted the Lord as my Saviour I knew – without question – that there was a calling to serve the Lord on my life. At that time I did not know what that calling was (I was new to the ‘listening to God’ thing), but I was told – by my girlfriend of the time – that I would be a pastor. She was wrong … sort of. I never had a pastoral calling in the sense that I am not called to lead a congregation, but I did feel a calling to minister in the Word, to minister to the Body of Christ, and to serve the Body of believers in any way possible.

    My eventual ordination was, in a word, secondary to the fact that I was already serving the Lord as a minister. It is not about the ordination, it’s about the CALLING that matters – an ordination is merely man’s acknowledgment of God’s stamp on an individual’s heart. If someone says they are called to serve the Lord, who are we to place an obstacle in their path? What man (or woman) can know the heart of anyone to the point that we can be sure they are ‘qualified’ to be ordained?

    If a man or woman believes the Lord is calling them into the Priesthood, ordain!

    In His Service,
    Rev. Amsel

  3. In the (predominantly American) United Methodist Church, this is a topic of some interest. Before 1996, we practiced sequential ordination: deacon, then after a period of 2 years, elder (presbyter, priest, whatever).

    That changed in ’96. We introduced a dual-track system, in which one was either deacon or elder. Because of our quirky theology/practice of ordination, we kept a provisional period of 3 (now 2) years before ordination, and made up a new act of worship we call “commissioning” to inaugurate ministry.

    A positive aspect of the post-96 process is that we affirm the gifts of deacons in a unique, non-subordinate way. But there are many things problematic in this new system, and we’re still trying to work out the kinks. I believe the per saltum process is here to stay in the UMC, but that we’ll be moving ordination to the beginning of the provisional process in the next few years.

    For me, personally, I missed out on the ability to be ordained as deacon, then elder. I would have appreciated being an ordained “apprentice,” but I also believe that learning the pattern of diakonia/servanthood is fruitful in and of itself. Clergy need that grounding in servant-leadership that being a deacon first contributes.

  4. I’ve known vocational deacons that have later re-approached the Commission on Ordinations to be evaluated for the priesthood. I do not consider it a malfunctioning of the current system. In both cases, the people involved served willingly and joyfully for 10+ years as a deacon, doing those things a deacon does.

    As those deacons became older (presbyter?), they felt the need to go back and be re-evaluated for ordination to the priesthood. In both cases, it happened very naturally.

    Through those experiences, I came to understand the current progression. With the experience of being a deacon, they matured into being presbyters.

    I’ve also known priests that were still world-facing at heart. I see the leadership call of the deaconate in them, which–of course–they still are. It is a shame they had to take on something that clearly wasn’t in their makeup just for the “authority” a priest has.

    With the trend that we have had in the US towards later ordination as presbyters, there is an opportunity here of which we are not taking advantage. That is, encourage the 20-something to seek out the training and formation to be outward facing deacons.

    Don’t train these deacons to be parish presbyters (at least not yet). Pay them for their work (where you heart is, there is your treasure).

    Let them get experience leading the social ministries and home visitation ministries of the church. Let them become experienced in the way of the parish and of people.

    Then, and only after a period of maturation and service, if that person is still feels called to be a presbyter, let that person be re-evaluated, given additional training for their new role, and ordained to that order.

    I know there will be those that won’t feel complete until ordination to the priesthood. It was their drive all along. But, the day when someone first calls them rector or vicar, that person will be in a better position to handle a job that was matured into.

    If we are supposed to be letting our lights shine on the hill for all the world to see, we better have the people providing the fuel to light those lamps. That is the deaconate.

    There is another reason for keeping the status quo. In ordination to the priesthood, there is no promise to obey your bishop. That happens only as a deacon.

  5. It seems to me it’s handy for priests to be ordained deacons first so that they can seamlessly take on the deacon role when they have none in their parish, or if they do, they can “be the deacon” with authority when the deacon is away. I say this with a degree of regret, because a vocational deacon should not be so easily covered. I am a vocational deacon not aiming for the priesthood at this time.

  6. Perhaps per saltum ordination would help combat the incorrect and unhelpful view of a deacon as a junior or trainee priest. The diaconate if it is not seen as a transitional step may then be strengthened as a respected calling in itself.

    Could it be that a non-ordained form of initial ministry would be more appropriate for both those called to be deacons and those called to be priests? For example, one might request a number of years active service as a lay reader be completed before per saltum ordination.

  7. I had no idea this was an actual discussion within the church. My question though is about these sentences “In the Latin Rite of Roman Catholicism (the majority of Roman Catholics)” and “[Other Roman Catholic rites allow for married priests and have a stronger tradition of a clearly differentiated diaconate]“. I don’t quite understand what the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church is. Or am I missing something?

    I am a Catholic in the Ruthinian rite. I am not Roman Rite, or Latin Rite (which are the same). I am in Full union with the Catholic Church now under Pope Benedict XVI.

    As for the post. I believe in the “status quo”.

  8. In my simple way of understanding things, if I see a statement that “xyz is not valid”, I wonder why. Could someone find me the relevant verses of scripture on this topic as I cannot find them using the search terms I can think of.

  9. Forty years ago I was coming to the end of my time at an Anglican seminary, and realised that within a month or two I would probably be ordained a deacon, and I didn’t have a clue what a deacon was supposed to be or do. I’d seen lots of priests, but very few deacons. So I quickly started reading whatever I could find in the college library to find out about deacons, and after reading it, thought I would rather be a deacon than a priest.

    After a couple of years I was oerdained as an Anglican priest mainly because I was visiting congregations 130 miles away in Namibia, and no priests would go to them.

    Some years later I was on an Anglican provincial commission to examine the diaconate, because nobody knew what it was. We met for three years at great expense, and produced a report that was brushed aside by the provincial synod. They regarded the diaconate as superfluous and unnecessary (“lay ministers can do everything that deacons do”) but decided that women should be ordained to this unnecessary ministry. That’s when I realised that the Anglican Church had in fact (with a few eccentric exceptions, like me) abandoned ideas of the three-fold ministry, apostolic succession and all that goes with it. That’s when I left to become Orthodox.

    After a few years, with some reluctance, I allowed the bishop to tonsure me as a Reader, and eventually ordain me as a deacon. I saw my ministry primarily as evangelism and chuch planting, and training lay worship leaders. But St Stephen and St Philip were both deacons and evanglists, so the ministries could be combined. Every now and again the bishop asks me if I’m ready to be ordained as a priest, and I keep telling him no. I tell him that she shortage of deacons is more serious than the shortage of priests. There are more parishes with no deacons than there are parishes with no priests. I think he regards me as almost as eccentric as the Anglicans did.

    But the deacon doesn’t exactly face the world. The deacon faces both ways.

  10. I have known lots and lots of vocational deacons, probably more than 50 who are deeply committed to serving Christ in the world. I have known 3 or 4 who went into the diaconate, even though they felt they should be priests, primarily because they didn’t or wouldn’t do the extra studies required. It seems to me that their lack of calling shows in their ministry. In Maine, the distinction is made between transitional deacons and deacons. The more deacons a diocese has and the better job they do in training congregations in what the diaconate is all about, the less problem there seems to be in considering deacons as a full and separate order. I love having a deacon at the altar with me and have served with deacons in Michigan, California and Maine.

    I personally would like per saltum ordination, but realize this is controversial. My time as a transitional deacon was only six months. I used the time to train in interim ministry and teach children in our parish. As a late vocation person who had served on a vestry, was a senior warden, sang in the choir, trained accolytes, wrote church bulletins, cooked for the homeless and had a busy professional life as a scientist/manager I felt ready to take on my first interim after that six months. I realized though that that first call needed to be in a relatively healthy parish and asked the bishop that question. If I had been ordained directly to the priesthood, I still would have needed that training. Fortunately it required a period of supervision.

  11. It is not that I do not think that it is important for a priest to get to know what a deacon’s ministry is. However, to do it for 6 mos is to barely get a taste of it- and that is if the person takes it seriously. I have seen transitional deacons who simply use this time as a pre priest training time and a time to search for a position as a priest. I have also heard whispered jokes among priests and ordinands at transitional diaconate ordinations to “be sure and cross your fingers when asked if you are called to be a deacon”.
    As a deacon I have experienced the inequities of working side by side with a transitional deacon. In our diocese it is a requirement that transitional deacons be paid, whereas deacons are non stipendary.If they want to be a deacon it should be the full experience.
    To me, if it is really thought that a priest needs a special time of training in addition to seminary that role should be called “transitional priest”. They can spend some time with deacons learning that end of things and some time with priests,preparing further for the role to which they have been called.
    That would help clear up misunderstandings about the role of the deacon which is all too often seen by both ordained and laity as a lesser order and a stepping stone. Deacons are frequently asked when we are going to “move up” to the priesthood. This does make for good opportunities to explain the diaconal call,and how we work together as a complementary team with priests. But for a person who feels truly called to be a “world facing” deacon it is disheartening that the order is not respected in its own right. I think direct ordination, or the concept of “transitional priests” would go a long way to help this situation on many levels.

  12. From my tradition (United Church of Christ & Christian Church Disciples of Christ) we practice exclusively per saltum ordinations. We have licensed ministries which function with [some] similarity to deacons in other traditions. Licensed ministry is often, but not always, a stepping stone to ordained ministry; but it is not (sadly, I think) considered an ordination.

    I think one of the places we need more reflection is the recognition of ordinations other than what we call “ordained ministers” aka presbyters. In our tradition deacons are commissioned from a local church for a temporary time. I think we would benefit from discerning calls to a permanent diaconate; and the relation of diaconate to “ordained ministry”.

    Thanks for raising this issue, I always appreciate the opportunity to reflect on it.

  13. Karl Rahner, of happy memory, had some very interesting observations on both the restoration of the diaconate and the whole sacrament of Holy Orders. He maintained that the church had been bequeathed the sacrament of Order by Christ, and that the three fold orders of ordained ministry were ancient enough that it should not be tampered with, but that the Church was free to re-assign responsibilities within these orders so as best to serve the pastoral needs of the People of God and the call of the Church to build up God’s reign.
    This puts a different slant on questions of “validity”, and calls us to “worry first about the Reign of God..” as we have been commanded.

  14. Thanks Fr. Bosco,

    For raising this issue. I could not decide on which way to vote. I agree with some of the observations above that there is a slice of ordinands-to-be (and ordinands) who are rather cynical of the process, and disdainful of the order of the diaconate. Per saltum ordination is a way to disentangle the orders from this distortion.

    On the other hand, liturgically at the eucharist, I find the roles of diakonia and prebytery to be very meaningful and fruitful for meditation. At St. Gregory’s Abbey, a Benedictine Episcopal monastery in Michigan, and at St. Andrew’s Abbey, a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery in California, where I have taken retreats, it is interesting and fruitful to watch and contemplate on the rotation of liturgical roles among the priests/deacons, including the Abbot, at mass.

    So, yes and no. I suppose the real question is should reforms seek to structurally obviate particular abuses by obliteration of relationships, or should reforms seek to foster more fruitful paths and disincline from more unfruitful paths. Sorry to have perhaps created a false dichotomy, but I would opt for more of the latter and less of the former. The former usually being unsuccessful, and by the law of unintended consequences to create a new set of abuses.

  15. I think we need to have a clearer understanding of the three orders of ordained ministry and specifically priests and deacons. My own diaconate was transitional to the priesthood. I felt called to the priesthood not the diaconate. I and most of the parish in which I served as a deacon saw me as a priest during a probationary period – a priest who could not yet do priestly things!There was no real effort to form me as a deacon or for me to serve as a “real” deacon. The transitional diaconate seems to diminish the integrity and ministry of vocational deacons. I would welcome a serious study and consideration of direct ordination but there are several areas on which we need to focus: how to discern between priestly and diaconal vocations, salary and benefits, what does a deacon do that a lay person fully exercising their baptism does not do, mentoring and spiritual formation of priests just out of seminary, is there a formational benefit for a priest to serve as a deacon or is it, as Bosco asked, just time spent, what type of theological education and formation will be required of deacons. These are just a few that come to mind. I look forward to a continued discussion of this matter. Peace, Mike

  16. Concerning training for deacons: at one time the University of South Africa, where I was at various times both a student and a teacher, offered the degree of Bachelor of Diaconology. Unfortunately it was only available to students who were registered at the Huguenot College, Wellington — a special concession that the theology caculty were trying to eliminate.

    When I was on an Anglican commission to investigate the diaconate (see other comment above) I urged them to make the degree available to all students and suggested that the essence of it should be that it was interdisciplinary — that students would take some theological courses, and some courses from other faculties, arts, or economics or science or whatever. So a deacon could study both theology and, say, community development, or accountancy, or whatever.

    The advantage of a priest serving as a deacon for a period is that a priest should, in theory, then be familiar with the liturgical duties of a deacon and should know what to do when serving with a deacon. In practice it doesn’t work like that very often. Many service books have been printed with the deacon’s parts assigned to the priest, because it is assumed that the absence of a deacon is the norm. So even when there is a deacon present, the priest still does the deacon’s bits.

  17. I love that priests are ordained as deacons before they are ordained as priests. It pains me that some don’t necessarily know what they are being ordained to, and it is good that some read up on it and become good deacons first. I felt and feel only called to the diaconate, because I cannot imagine standing behind the altar and preaching the Good News, and then not going out into the world to act on it. It makes no sense to me. One priest told me that he believes that he took on the mantle of the deacon and then added the mantle of the priest. That I understand much better… and the deacon has the huge privilege of not adding all those extra tasks to a quite full plate. Priests are called to a very special role in the church. I believe we are all called to be deacons.

    • Thanks Liz for your thoughtful comment. I’m interested in your final point: “I believe we are all called to be deacons.” I think that is a pro-per saltum comment – because you are highlighting that we are all called, through our baptism, to the service you describe as “I cannot imagine standing behind the altar and preaching the Good News, and then not going out into the world to act on it”. So if we are all already called to that in our baptism, it would seem that we do not require an extra ordination to that. Maybe being ordained to be a deacon is something else than the service we are called to in baptism, the living out of the Good News we are all called to in baptism.

  18. My rather unorthodox view is there is one call and that is to follow Jesus. How we play that out in our lives differs. My sad experience is there are too many deacons and priests who are out for job validation – they’ve lost their vision and therefore their call. The future of faith is more rooted in the past – we will have a non-denominational priesthood of all believers. This is happening now with the enormous attrition rate from attendance at regular “churchy” services in lieu of personal accountability – even if that accountability is exchanged between Christians and non-Christians.

  19. My original ordination to the presbyterate was per saltum in the Uniting Church in Australia. That was the ministry I believed I was being called to exercise and the church concurred with that. However, I seriously considered the diaconate and almost chose that direction before being sure of the direction to which I was being called.

    For me, sequential ordination not only devalues the diaconate, but it also devalues the baptismal covenant! If I need to be ordained a deacon before becoming a presbyter so that I can experience ‘servant ministry’ or learn an ‘outward, world facing perspective’ then I have failed to be formed in the baptismal covenant. Ordination as a deacon is a poor way of correcting that problem!

    As for who will proclaim the gospel if we don’t have enough deacons after switching to per saltum ordination… then we don’t proclaim the gospel until we **get** it!

    Of course, as I moved into the Anglican Communion, I experienced sequential ordination. I did assist my bishop on a couple of occasions, but was in the somewhat unique position of working/being called before and after as the pastor of a Lutheran/Presbyterian congregation. So, for 6 months I was pastor and presided at the eucharist as a presbyter in the Uniting Church in Australia. Then I was ordained a deacon in The Episcopal Church, remained pastor but could no longer preside at the eucharist. Then was ordained a priest and, once again, could preside… How’s that for a very odd transition!

  20. This comment string is a bit old but I have just found it. If anyone is still notified of comments here is mine: I was ordained in the Baptist church and after years of ordaine dministry moved to the Anglicanism. When I made that move I was ordained per saltum. I really do not see the point of a “transitional” diaconate. In the NT priests were ordained and deacons selected. Why one is now seen as a stepping stone to the other is beyond me.

  21. Like Steve, I just found this site and felt moved to comment. I was raised and baptized in the Baptist church in a small U.S.A. town. Later I found my way to the local Episcopal Church and was confirmed as a young adult in 1982.

    This small church had more members years before, but was just surviving when I arrived. There were never more than 15 to 20 per Sunday Eucharist.

    I found a home and a place where lay involvement was encouraged and even needed. So I became involved in the very workings of the church in a way that helped me to live out my Baptismal covenant, help others and worship.

    Within two years I was what was then called a lay reader. Since then I have done the same work with the church. Yes, I have been a Lay Eucharistic Minister in the Episcopal church, as it is called now, for thirty years. When a Priest was not available for Sunday Service, I was authorized to conduct Morning Prayer. I have been Crucifer, Acolyte, Lay Reader and Eucharistic Minister bearing the Chalice all in each service for years.

    I do this because I have always felt called to serve the Lord in some way. I found that this is my way of living out my calling. It is my way of serving those in my congregation.

    Over the years I have thought about ordination and orders, but I don’t think that is something I am called to do. I think that the laity often consider a calling to serve the Lord as only involving ordination. I feel that we should encourage laity like myself to consider that a calling may not involve ordination, but only training and licensing for the support of their church.

    With so few members and no deacon this is our only option. We assist the priest in his service to us and our congregation. We live out our faith in service to each other.

    It would be a blessing to have a Deacon to assist the Priest every Sunday at Eucharist or conduct Morning Prayer when he was not available. For now I live out my faith in a small Parish church assisting the priest as I can.

    • Thanks, Brian. I think what you write is so important. Being lay is just as much a calling, a vocation, as being a priest, for example. The vocations are different – and equal. Blessings.

  22. “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ Crucified. Proclaim His resurrection. and share with us in His eternal priesthood.”
    If Christ is our great High Priest, and all of us are called to share with one another in His eternal priesthood, then it seems to me that any delineation of a particular ministry in Christ’s universal Priesthood (pastoral, liturgical, administrative, or deaconal) should finally be up to the discernment of the individual AND the community, congregation, or denomination to which they may be called. The same should be true whether we call those who serve the Church bishops, priests, or deacons, elders, pastors, or presbyters, or brothers, sisters, or (like myself) as ecumenical-interfaith chaplains. I do believe that anyone who supervises or coordinates others in ministry should themselves have had experience doing the same ministry for at least some period of time, and this is one important downside of “per saltum” ordination.
    I also understand that those who have an “outward facing” ministry have gifts and responsibilities which may be quite different than those with an “inward facing” ministry. Similarly those whose ministry is pastoral care, spiritual direction, or personal/liturgical prayer, evangelism, preaching, teaching, social justice, peacemaking, service to the poor, or administration of persons or finances for a congregation, diocese, or specific ministry are all different. Perhaps we could commission, ordain, or publicly recognize, pray for, and lay hands on any and all such persons, as ALL are deeply needed for the upbuilding of the body of Christ in our day. Neither scripture nor the (complete) history of the early Church necessarily requires a hierarchical bishop-priest-deacon model of ministry, as even Anglican theologian Richard Hooker once recognized.
    The main problem as I see it is the way in which we Episcopalians pay “lip service” to the equality of our ministries, but decide to reimburse the various ministers themselves quite differently (and I believe unjustly. See also Deacon Cindy Long’s comment above.) Although my own diocese has reaffirmed our commitment to the principle of a “living wage” for all persons, we still have many church members, including Deacons, who serve with little if any stipend, reimbursement, or even health insurance!. At the same time, our bishops (God bless them!) and others may receive much more than is needed to fulfill their important responsibilities as overseers of a diocese or denomination. This is neither just nor sustainable at a time when church budgets are challenged by a changing economy, and increasing numbers of Americans are losing their homes, or must live without health insurance.
    Thank God many servants of Christ’s Kingdom serve without a need for salary or stipend, having their own source of income or sustenance. But this should not be expected, nor considered normative. A living wage standard for all ministries of the Baptised, including affordable health insurance for those who need it, should now be the goal of our church, and let those who may not need such income return any or all of their salary, as God may lead them.

    • Thanks so much, Grant, for your very thoughtful points.

      Responding to your point that someone supervising, for example, an outward-facing deacon ministry, have experience of such ministry. This is not an argument against per saltum as you suggest. The bishop would ordain to the outward-facing diaconal vocation, but that ordaining bishop would not necessarily supervise the deacon once so ordained. So it does not require that bishop to have once been a deacon.

      Your USA context about income is different in NZ where the stipend is, as you describe, at the average NZ income, and does not vary significantly whether one is deacon, priest, or bishop.

      Blessings.

  23. My diocese decided more than 13 years ago to have per saltum ordination of both orders, believing that both are needed in the community. Also in one respect, it was to stem the ever-increasing hierarchical tendency of the priesthood that seems so prevalent in liturgical churches. The height of ordained ministry is the priesthood for many, making deacons to be less. So when a perspective candidate comes forward, we are clear that the discernment to ordained ministry is the discernment to ordained ministry, and that it will become clear to which order. Given that, we also state that the bishop possesses the fullness of the orders and not the fullness of the priesthood, in order to emphasize the need for both orders in the Church. typically then, I would wear both a dalmatic and chasable. the dalmatic would be sheerer, because of both weight and heat.

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.