The Rev. Cynthia Taylor: Holy fear is a biblical way of talking about awe for God

The Rev. Cynthia Taylor baptizes Lylah Hall at Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez. SPECIAL

Don’t you wish that the spell check on your computer could read your mind? That it knew what you meant to say rather than what was actually written?


That was the case several years ago when I sent out an email to my church informing them of an impending ordination to the Scared Order of Deacons.

Oops. It should have read that he was to be ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons.

Fortunately several dozen people helpfully caught the error after the fact and let us know of the mistake, which was quickly corrected. However, I’m not so sure we made such a bad mistake.

First, our candidate was being ordained the week of Halloween, so maybe there really is a Scared Order of Deacons, just as there is a Scared Order of Priests – believe me, I know from firsthand experience.

And secondly, the computer’s spell check may be on to something by thinking sacred and scared are interchangeable words when it comes to the presence of the Holy One, much less coming into ordination.

Holy fear is just a biblical way of talking about awe – the awe we feel at coming into God’s presence and the greater awe we have in knowing that it is God Himself who has called us. There is a sense of humility and unworthiness mixed in with great joy when we realize that God has called us.

I have never gotten over God’s call to me to enter the ordained ministry. May 16 will mark the 30th year of my priesthood. I was scared then, as I was the first woman to be ordained in my diocese, and fear still touches me from time to time when I think of the incredible responsibility that Jesus has entrusted to me. But then I go back to my first call when, as an infant, I was marked as Christ’s own forever at baptism. It’s a tattoo on my heart, as Gregory Boyle would describe it; the defining moment of my life.

In the Episcopal Church, the congregation says these words of welcome to all who are baptized: “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.”

Every time I hold an infant in my arms I think about what kind of priest that child will become. Even as we dream all sorts of wonderful things for each child, I wonder, “What is the dream that God dreams for this child?” That’s the dream of a lifetime.

One of the blessings of a long ministry is seeing these children grow up. It is a joy to see how they live out that calling. Yes, there will be missteps along the way but that is why we have a community to love us back into the paths that give us life.

I like the story Rachel Held Evans tells of a young man who was about to be baptized after a time of wrestling – not so much with God as with people who were acting less than godly. He said, “I put off baptism because I felt like … I wasn’t good enough or fit enough to be baptized. But then I realized that baptism is done at the beginning of your faith journey, not the middle or the end. You don’t have to have everything together to be baptized … You just have to grasp God’s grace. God’s grace is enough.” And it is.

And here is what the grace of God enables us to be – the household of God; full of sacred and scared people who are still bold enough to live out their faith, and to proclaim that “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.” This is the fellowship of Jesus; this is the invitation of Jesus that we extend as members of his eternal priesthood. Not judgment, but joy. Not condemnation, but compassion. Not loathing, but love.

That is our mission; something that will be sacred and sometimes scary, but I pray will also be joyful and full of wonder. That has been my experience of the journey of faith, and I pray it will be yours.


The Rev. Cynthia Taylor is the rector of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.