Tuesday, November 23, 2004


We commonlife folks shared worship with Vine and Branches last week. We relaxed, shared a little brie, talked about our lives in Christ and engaged the liturgy.

It was good. It was good just to have that reminder that we are not the only ones doing what we do.

Something I’m trying to get my mind around – should being a presbyter be like any other profession? Is it really like being a professional counselor? Is that any more appropriate than the model of pastor as CEO?

We lit candles for significant (to us) saints at the All Saints Celebration over the weekend. I tried for a few minutes to think of a dead person whose faith and work had impacted me. I could only think of one: Geoffrey Anketel Studdert-Kennedy. I read quite a bit of his poetry while at Oxford, and was struck to find the candor with which his “rough rhymes” expressed and mourned the suffering of the post-WWI era, both of men and of God. He was called “Woodbine Willie” because he (against regulations) entered the trenches with the men on the front lines, handing out Woodbine cigarettes and saying the burial office while covered in muck. He was an early leader also of the Christian Industrial Fellowship – I’ll leave you to suppose what that was all about in 1920s England.

I was struck by something else. I read bits of theology and the history of the ancient Christian church, try to understand the stuff of the original gospel proclamation and how it first came to bear in particular cultural contexts and get excited about that work. I want to be involved in the conversation and do the needful and hard work of faithfully translating the ancient faith into contemporary practice. I want to do that as a presbyter and teacher, looking after people, offering the sacraments, helping them live into and practice God’s vision for their lives as the Body of Christ, and speak healing into dark and empty places.

I’m not sure I’ve yet seen a model of professional ministry that put those things at the top of the job description. I’ll keep giving “traditional church” the benefit of a doubt (I have been, really!), but that doubt is shrinking.

I want to be faithful, but I don’t know in which direction I ought to walk, at least in terms of professional clergydom and denominational polity.

From T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday:
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

1 comment:

+ Alan said...

I'm not sure I understand why that can't be seen more clearly. I mean, the fact that making body oversight a profession is problematic. I said a short while ago that I didn't believe pastors being paid was inherently evil. I still don't, but that statement has mucho qualificatianos.

Some support from the community for those who are elders might be, at times, appropriate - at times. I do think, though, that this should always be unusual and not the norm. Otherwise we might get, well, what we've got.

What do we have? We have "ministers" who get training from people they don't know apart from a community of faith, in order to qualify for a "job" in the church. They must support they're families. They must pay bills, etc. So what do they do? They do what is required in order to get paid. Sure, many may do great things "in ministry" and have huge hearts full of God, but that "job" being what it is, a "job", puts certain cargo into the ship that we don't necessarily ask for. It's just there and it must be dealt with, and I would argue that it is an unnecessary distraction to the real work of spiritual direction and oversight.

It separates us from the people. It causes us to focus, albeit unintentionally, on money too much (worrying about attendance, growth, and the offering - job security you know). It causes us to make up things to do which add to what it means to be a faith community in unhelpful and hindering ways. It wears us out. It causes, again even if it is unintentionally, "the people" to see themselves as less than fully Christian, not as able as us, not as powerful as us. We become the Druids who do the magic for the people.

Well, you know I would go on and on. Those are a few things it seems we have a hard time seeing. Again, a little support from time to time in the right circumstance and a professional clergy are two entirely different things. I would urge us all to take a look, with intergrity, at what that might mean for our lives as presbyters and overseers. Grace and Peace to all in this house.