Thursday, March 24, 2005

Is Itinerant Ministry Valid?

Not many Christian denominations have consciously instituted an itinerant system, whereby pastors are assigned to particular churches for limited periods of time. However, most in the United States accept a de facto itinerancy. I think this is bad for us because it short-circuits spiritual formation in the community, and its practice is built upon an impoverished idea of what the Christian community is.

Premise 1. Life in Christ cannot be separated from life in the Body of Christ. To be found in Jesus Christ is to be found in the Church, and to live in obedience to Jesus entails dedication to life as the Christian Community.

Premise 2. God mediates his love to us through our life in the Body. The abstract love of God becomes concrete through the encounters of human persons with one another, when they act upon themselves and the world in redemptive ways.

Premise 3. Presbyters are the ordained leaders who take specific, appointed responsibilities for the formation of people into the likeness of Christ. They may preach, teach, bless, consecrate, correct, admonish, or exhort. They watch sheep. The metaphor only goes so far, as they are still sheep themselves. (We'll talk about our authority issues in next week's post)

If we are to live as God's new community, we should in most circumstances stay with one another, and live out the timeless reality of our connection in Christ in concrete ways. Let's make the people in our lives really important to us. Don't pour your life into someone and turn away as soon as they become too inconvenient, whether because of life changes or the sin that's scarred our relationships. Let us dedicate ourselves to the people of God as we might a family. (A healthy one, that is. Again, metaphors only go so far.)

I daresay the real reason many people seek denominational ordination is so they can have a broad, non-relational stamp of approval. This stamp is only necessary if one needs to be approved by people with whom one cannot realistically have relationships. But why would a Christian need that? This would only be the case if a presbyter, a shepherd of God's people, were to uproot from one community and go to a strange community on a regular basis. As if this were the expected norm. But what sense does it make for that uprooting to occur in the first place? Perhaps if someone with the charism of apostleship were to go to a new region that doesn't currently have a Christian community, and form one. Or if a community loses its presbyterial ministry unexpectedly, and there isn't yet someone formed in the community to bear that office.

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Peter said...

"I daresay the real reason many people seek denominational ordination is so they can have a broad, non-relational stamp of approval. "

I think you are onto something here in terms of people falling into the trap of careerism.

I wonder if it is important for the catholicity of the church that presbyters by appointed/ordained/set apart (whatever nomenclature one approves of) a broader body because the church is more than the individual local communities.

This does not demand a democracy (you know -- like 815 and most contemporary dioceses) but it would demand a broader recognition than just the local.

Any thoughts?


Peter said...

"This does not demand a democracy"

oops -- I meant bureaucracy.


Kyle said...

Hello, Father Pete!

Perhaps you would with me then, that those bureaucracies actually hinder catholicity by replacing relationship (and even unity of teaching!) with rules.

I would suggest that some kind of institutional structures (canon law) should be employed to support relationships that are otherwise very distant. On the local level, where real relationships are possible, a stamp should never replace knowing someone.

I don't think that recognition of ministry and catholicity should find its first measure in the credentials of presbyters. Let the communities be connected as communities in meaningful ways, first.

Not here anymore said...