Dogs at the Table

...or to put it another way, "Perish, priest!"

Monday, June 28, 2010

Is it just me?

I think I've become a curmudgeon. Maybe it's age-related grumpiness. Maybe it's ongoing frustration with institutional systems and patterns of thought. Maybe it's the time of year.

I went to a church service last night: "A Celebration of New Ministry." It's one of those services of the church where a new incumbent is welcomed into the parish, where the covenant in ministry is publicly presented, and a milestone in a parish's history is marked.

Here is what I don't get: the "new incumbent" had been in the parish for a year, so there was nothing really novel about the appointment; the "new incumbent" was a non-resident priest on a half-time appointment; and finally, the covenant that was produced made no recognition of the constraints of a half-time position and used old language that stated that the role of the congregation was to support the rector in his/her pastorate.

This is an absolute failure to recognize that the gifts of ministry are already fully present in the community of the baptized. The priest brings with him/her the sacramental and sacerdotal charisms related to ordination, but in a real baptismal ecclesiology, it is the sacraments that sustain the congregation, not the congregation supporting the sacraments.

This ongoing failure to recognize that the role of the clergy is to support the ministry of Christ as expressed in the local community should be obvious. But for whatever reason, bishops, archdeacons and other senior clergy continue to let congregations away with abrogating their real responsibilities in ministry, and allowing clergy to usurp "ministry" as their own.

Even from our own local diocesan e-newsletter, let me quote the following:

If it weren’t for Lay people who would listen to those interesting sermons? Who would put the coffee on for coffee hour? Who would sing the new hymns? Who would teach the children? Who would raise the money? Who would help plan the programs? Who would take the Church out into the world? Who would mow the grass in the cemeteries? Who would keep our books? Who would create our bulletins and parish newsletters? Who would help the clergy visit the sick and shut-in? Who would help the priest with our new and exciting liturgies? (from the press release for the 2010 Legacy Fund for Lay Ministry)

This language patronizes and diminishes the community of the baptized, whose only role now is to validate the priest by undertaking mundane tasks or being on the receiving end of sermons and liturgies. Why isn't the community of the baptized crafting these sermons and liturgies? Why are the baptized to teach children and not adults? Why is the initiative to visit the sick and the shut-in the prerogative of the clergy and not the community's? For what purpose is "the money" being raised?

And so I end up at this celebration of new ministry characterized by a wholly inadequate covenant in ministry, flawed ecclesiology, and incompetent liturgy (that's a whole different rant).

Yup, I've become a curmudgeon.

Today's weigh-in: 232 Something to smile about.


  • At 2:44 PM, Blogger Ann said…

    Exactly. The service just emphasizes what is no longer a workable model - if it ever was.


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