Digby will be hosting some full-on pomp and ceremony.
The Anglican bishop, the Rt. Rev. Susan Moxley, and clergy from all across the province will be coming to Digby on Sunday to celebrate the ordination of an Anglican priest.
“Everyone’s welcome,” says deacon and soon-to-be-priest Mel Malton. “Come for the music and the pomp and ceremony. Anglicans do things like that very well.”
Malton has been the deacon at Trinity Anglican Church in Digby since June; she was deaconed in May at the All Saints Cathedral in Halifax.
That’s where ordinations normally take place: the long procession of clergy in their finest, a full-blown mass with a choir singing hymns about what it is to be a priest, and the short simple rite of ordination.
“The ordination itself is not long or complex,” says Malton. “There is some kneeling, some vows, the laying on of hands, which just looks like a big scrum. You won’t be able to see me at all as the other priests will be all around me.”
Laying on of hands is commonly used in Christian churches to invoke the Holy Spirit and in this case for ceremonies of inclusion, like when a deacon joins the order of priesthood for example.
The major difference between a deacon and a priest is that a deacon cannot consecrate the sacrament, that is, prepare and administer communion. Malton has until now done everything else in the church but has had to invite ordained priests to celebrate the Eucharist.
“There are all sorts of sound traditional and historical reasons why it’s important to serve as a deacon first, to learn about the role of a servant,” says Malton. “Coming in here as a deacon, I’ve been on as much of a learning curve as the rest of the parish.”
Malton is enjoying that curve.
“I’m having a blast,” she says. “I enjoyed the training but it’s like lessons in sky-diving; you can’t really know until you’re actually doing it.”
“I remember realizing, wow, this is for real. The parishioners talk to me about the heavy things they are dealing with. It’s a huge responsibility, it’s a blast, it’s a challenge. You get to be in on people’s really important life moments: funerals, weddings. I haven’t been able to do any baptisms yet but we have some coming up after Christmas and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Digby’s deacon grew up in Muskoka, Ont., but was born in England. That accent slips out now and then, usually when she’s telling a joke, but most of the time she uses a gentle Upper Canadian accent.
Malton worked for years in theatre. She trained as an actor but found steadier work in stage management. She first came to Nova Scotia in the 80’s to work at Windsor’s Mermaid Theatre.
She “absolutely fell in love with the province”, studied English for two years at Acadia before retreating to a cabin in the woods in Ontario to write.
At first she supported her writing habit working at a newspaper as a journalist, editor and editorial cartoonist. After 10 years of that she turned to writing mystery novels and has published eight books – four mystery novels, two children’s books and two poetry collections.
Religion shows up as an underlying theme in the mystery novels. Malton’s main character Polly Deacon has questions around her own religious beliefs.
Malton’s path to the ministry may have begun when she first left the paper and took a part-time job as the secretary to her priest in Ontario. Her job involved a lot of “front-line work” which she says came easy to her “and was very fulfilling”.
When she realized the majority of her time was being dedicated to church stuff, she began thinking about the ministry.
“I used to get a great charge out of being an actor,” she says. “In a great role, with a great script and a great costume. Being a minister isn’t that different – we’ve got a great script, the costumes are great. I just had to figure out if this was an egotistical wish or something divinely inspired.”
While she was wondering about that, she took a big role in a play and realized, her pastoral work held more meaning for her.
Malton says she plans on sticking round Digby.
“I suppose every minister who’s come to a parish says that and means that,” admits Malton. “This community has a really strong interdenominational culture. There’s not a lot of that ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling here; there’s a lot of cooperation and I really like that. Sometimes it can be lonely as a rural minister so it is nice to have the others there to talk to and to work with. We all deal with the same issues.”
Malton’s flock includes Trinity in Digby, St. Peters in Weymouth North, St. Matthews in Weymouth Falls and Sandy Cove, though guest priests usually celebrate the summer masses there.
Sunday's ordination will take place at Trinity Anglican at 4 p.m. .