June 26th, 2012
03:51 AM ET
Editor's Note: CNN International business news anchor Charles Hodson charts the journey that has taken him from the studio to the brink of ordained ministry – and explains how he plans to combine priesthood with his 34-year career in broadcast journalism.
By Charles Hodson, CNN
At about 11 a.m. this coming Sunday, in one of England’s most beautiful medieval cathedrals, Peter, Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells, will lay his hands on my head and pronounce these words:
Send down the Holy Spirit on your servant Henry Charles Hodson
for the office and work of a deacon in your Church.
It will be a moment without comparison in my life, and yet it will not be about me, or about any of the dozen others kneeling beside me to be ordained by laying-on of hands. It will be about God and his Church; to be called to serve them in love and humility through ordained ministry is a privilege beyond imagination for a Christian, and I hope and pray that my future service to all God’s people will reflect that trust.
There will be great pageantry that summer morning in Wells Cathedral, its soaring spaces filled with the singing of the choir and the prayers of the hundreds of people crammed into its nave, led by Bishop Peter with his mitre and crozier. The Church of England does that kind of ceremony rather well.
But as I put on my "dog-collar" and drape my white stole around me sash-style for the first time that morning, I shall reflect on a four-year journey which began more quietly, albeit in a moment of pure surprise.
I had been invited to a meeting with a priest I had never met before, ostensibly for advice on "vocations." My own parish priest had suggested I should consider some ministry, and I imagined that would mean occasional lay preaching and worship leading.
I was already serving my own local parish as a churchwarden (responsible for the church, its worship and administration), and was commuting weekly from my home in rural southwest England to CNN’s London studios. My schedule was frankly heavy (ask my wife!) and I was not looking for "heavy lifting."
The priest received me with courtesy into his parish office, and asked me about myself and my Christian faith. I did not feel I was giving particularly impressive answers, but then came words I never expected but which were to change my life: "Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?"
My eyes probably bulged like footballs. A priest? Me, of all people? How could anyone suggest such a thing?
That lasted for about two seconds. And then came a realisation, deep, clear and inescapable, that everything that had happened in my life so far had been preparation for this moment. As Jesus says to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion, "You did not choose me but I chose you." (John 15:16)
He had, and like a flash of lightning came the insight that for all my failures and faithlessness, my gifts were to be put to service in the Church of the One who had bestowed them on me.
I’m not sure I remember too much of the conversation after that, but I do recall stepping out into the car park afterwards and saying to my wife, "Do you know what? I have just been asked whether I’d thought about being a priest, and perhaps I really am called to be one."
My beloved smiled knowingly and indulgently. "The latest fad," she remarked, "You’ll have forgotten all about it by next week."
But I didn’t. That sense of calling felt like a hand in the small of my back, gently but firmly steering me towards that cathedral on a July morning and onward into the challenges of ordained ministry.
My pilgrimage took me through two years of further scrutiny and prayerful preparation by another wise and loving local priest, and then to a rather scary "Bishops’ Advisory Panel" in August 2010: two or three days holed up in a retreat house with assessors and 15 other candidates, and a heavy round of interviews, presentations and group exercises designed to ensure we were genuinely "called" and were the right people to take on public ministry.
Then - on a Friday the 13th, believe it or not - came news that I had been recommended for training.
Bishop Peter – who like all our bishops decides himself whom he ordains – accepted the panel’s view, and a few weeks later I joined a group of other freshly minted ordinands at the largest of the theological colleges training would-be priests in the Church of England, Ripon College Cuddesdon near Oxford.
It has not been easy combining some very absorbing studies with running up and down to CNN in London and of course some modicum of home life (again, ask my wife). Thanks to the generosity and understanding of my CNN bosses, I stepped back from the full-time role I’d filled for fifteen years or more, and racked up 350 miles a week commuting between home, college and studios.
But throughout it all there has been a sense of joy and a quiet but unwavering confidence that, as crazy as it might seem to most people, this was what I was to do.
From the day of my ordination onwards I shall be serving a parish of around 10,000 people in a town near my home in Southwest England, under the careful supervision of its vicar, or parish priest.
For a year I shall serve purely as a deacon, an office set up by the first apostles to serve the community, as recounted in chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles; read on and you’ll learn how the first deacon, Stephen, quickly also became the first Christian martyr.
In the Church of England, deacons are normally ordained again, to the additional office of priest, one year after their initial ordination.
Loving service and humility will be at the heart of my new (unpaid) role. As the Bishop will tell the cathedral congregation on July 1, deacons are to seek out "the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible."
The poverty rate in my new parish is one in seven; there will be much to do.
But my anchoring days will continue, I hope. With the strong support of Bishop Peter and my CNN bosses, I shall still be anchoring World Business Today occasionally.
My dog-collar will stay at home, but there is no contradiction between honest work – which the Judeo-Christian tradition honors as an expression of our selves, our self-worth and our creativity – and serving God in his Church.
The theology behind such "incarnational ministry" is regarded as sound by the Church of England, and my CNN boss has her own take on it, too.
Surveying the London newsroom, she wryly remarked, "Anything you can do to make this place a bit holier, Charles, will be very welcome."
She was joking, of course; CNN London may not be full of innocents, but things really aren’t that bad. That said, my imminent ordained ministry will be here in the CNN workplace just as much as it will be in that modest parish 150 miles away. And I can’t wait.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.