What could be more appropo to the recognition and celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday than the ordination of priests dedicated to tolerance and understanding by a world renown recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize?
That is what took place at Christ Church in Alexandria last Saturday morning. The Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus, Cape Town, South Africa, presided at the ordination of his daughter and three others before an overflow crowd of family members, friends, parishioners and church hierarchy.
According to the church, each of the ordinands "is serving a three year residency at Christ Church prior to being assigned their own parish." Following their ordination they will continue to serve at Christ Church for another two years.
The newly ordained Reverend Mpho (pronounced MM-POH) A. Tutu, told the crowd assembled in the church courtyard following the 90- minute service, "It was awesome. It was particularly awesome to have my father there to perform the service."
Archbishop Tutu responded, "It was a very emotional day." Then in his trademark style of humor, he stated, "When she told me she wanted to be a priest, I said are you crazy. But, it's very rewarding."
Mpho Tutu was not the only offspring following a father's footsteps into the priesthood that morning. The Right Reverend Mark D. Pae, retired bishop of the Diocese of Taechun, South Korea, also participated as his son, The Reverend Joseph S. Pae, was ordained.
The Reverends Duncan A. Burns and Jennifer Ovenstone rounded out the ordination class of four.
Each ordinand was presented to Archbishop Tutu individually at the front of the 230-year old church where both George Washington and Robert E. Lee had worshipped. In addition to Reverend Mark Pae, Bishop Tutu was flanked by The Right Reverend Hays H. Rockwell, retired bishop of Missouri, and The Right Reverend Steven Charleston, president and dean, Episcopal Divinity School.
In his sermon, Charleston urged the new priests to, "Put all you do in a broader context. In this priesthood you have been called to fulfill, we are asked to help other people to learn again what it means to rejoice."
Then rhetorically he asked, "What is there to rejoice in? We live in a time of war. Terror stalks and haunts our lives. AIDS infects an entire continent.
"Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, have we eradicated racism? I am not asking the four of you to become cruise director on a sinking ship or to whistle past the graveyard."
He asked, "What would it take for all those in the midst of suffering to stand up and rejoice?" His answer was, "It would take the hope of dignity and justice."
GAZING OUT across the packed church, both on the main floor and in the balcony, Charleston said, "I'm not talking to just these four. I'm talking to all who are hearing my voice."
Then, in reference to the turmoil taking place within the Episcopal Church due to the elevation of its first openly gay bishop, V.Gene Robinson, Charleston insisted, "There are those who say we are too politically exposed. But, we must reach out to every single person. I make no apologies for this church being in the foreground of addressing this controversy."
At the conclusion of Charleston's sermon, many in the audience arose, applauded, and shouted their approval. In setting a lighter tone prior to delivering his sermon, he joked, "The hard part of my job today is over. I made it up these stairs without tripping. Praise the Lord and good day."
To reach the pulpit, one must ascend a steep set of stairs.
Archbishop Tutu, during the press conference following the ordination service, echoed Charleston's admonitions of inclusiveness. When asked his reaction to the ongoing controversy pertaining to the elevation of the gay priest, TuTu answered, "God's family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider."
The 72-year-old Tutu was instrumental in dismantling the policy of apartheid in South Africa and has played a major role on the world stage for decades. Most recently he was an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush's decision to initiate the war with Iraq.
His involvement, dedication and enthusiasm was a major influence in his daughter's decision to follow in his footsteps, she confirmed. The 40-year-old Mpho, married and the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, resembles her father both in looks and personality, from her pronounced jaw to her quick and impish wit.
Born in London, where her father was a student, Mpho grew up in South Africa when apartheid was the law of the land. In 1984, when Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Mpho was a mechanical engineering student at Howard University but never finished, deciding instead to follow other pursuits.
After her marriage in the early '90s, the coupled moved to Massachusetts where she began volunteering at the Episcopal church. In 1999, she entered Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., where she completed her schooling four years later.
This past June, Mpho and the three other ordinands, entered the internship program at Christ Church which is funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. The program, which operates nationwide, affords aspiring clergy the opportunity to develop under the guidance of experienced priests.
Each of the four new priests has a special area of interest. Mpho hopes to concentrate her ministry on helping women. Pae, 32, from Long Island, N.Y., a Yale Divinity School graduate, plans to concentrate on diverse ethnicity among young adults. Overstone, 25, hails from San Diego, and has set a goal as a minister to college students. Burns, the oldest of the four at 46, from Iowa, sees his calling as ministering to Native Americans.
AMONG THOSE in attendance and introduced by Christ Church rector, The Reverend Pierce W. Klemmt, during the ceremony, were Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille and U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8). Both joined Archbishop Tutu and the others at the courtyard press conference.
Afterward, Euille said, "It was an honor to witness the ceremony and a privilege to be in the company of Archbishop Tutu. This event was an historic moment in a historic church in our historic city."
Euille acknowledged, "Since his [Tutu's] daughter will be at Christ Church for the next year or so, I extended an invitation for him to attend a City Council meeting and visit with the citizens of Alexandria in the near future. He agreed and, hopefully, that will happen in February when we are celebrating Black History Month."
Parishioners at Christ Church got a bonus to that historic moment this past Sunday morning when The Reverend Mpho presided at a morning service and her father gave the sermon. Each of the other new priests presided over additional services that day.