The following is a revelation, an expository delineation of what the priesthood really is, and what it should be; what it was intended to be. It is also, in my view, how it is kept from those truly deserving of it, and given to those who perhaps ought not to have it. Power is the key for those who seek it, and means little to those who pursue the priesthood for the sake of others and not of self. How easily things get derailed when on the right track...
Lauren Gough is an Episcopal priest in Texas and author of the blog "Stone of Witness". The following is an excerpt from her latest post.
In the 1970’s, following Vatican II, there was a study done among religious orders, especially men’s orders that did not ordain their members, on the importance of the priesthood. I was teaching in a combined Ursuline and Christian Brothers school in Galveston. I remember reading the document and it raised many questions about the efficacy of priestly orders and was interested that priestly orders were considered really non-essential to the communities of men who embraced celibacy. Except for liturgical duties, priests among the community were seen as a detriment to the community life of the brothers. The status of ‘priest’ was considered an impediment to the common life.
When I attended the Kellogg lectures at EDS last week, this conversation was being reprised. The issue of clericalism is a big one in the Church these days. It is my contention that the schism that we have been experiencing over the past 15 years is a clerical one. It concerns not the people in the pew, but it concerns the clergy and bishops of a minority in the Anglican Communion. It has much to do with control and order, not theology or even basic faith. And after what I have seen here in Fort Worth following the split of the diocese, clericalism is alive and flourishing in this part of the Church militant.
The discussion at EDS was clearly on the side of abolishing the priesthood. But the
panelists were all NOT ordained. They were professors or academics who do not celebrate the Eucharist or absolve sins. Now, I know some of the members of that panel and some of them have their own ax to grind, BUT I do know what they are trying to get at. They are trying to address the excruciatingly difficult problem of clericalism that faces, I believe, all churches with the exception of the Quakers. And while I know that the Methodists, Presbyterians and the Reformed churches do not have priests, they still have clerical leadership that have power that can subject others to their will.
Here in Texas we have a preponderance of independent non-denominational churches since the break-up of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of those Baptist churches claim themselves as non-denominational these days but they still carry on Baptist theology and ethos. Some of the churches try to hide their Baptist affiliation by renaming themselves Gateway, or Heartland, or Harvest rather than being ____Ave. Baptist. But when you attend them even though they have screens and guitars, they are still Baptist. And the pastor still ‘knows best’.
Religious leadership is difficult at best. When your primary role model is Jesus who spoke of the Good Shepherd, it is so easy to fall into the habit of thinking that the people you are called to serve are sheep to be pushed around. The bishop carries a big stick to drag the sheep back into the fold. And yet the reality is much different. As a priest one is called upon to represent Christ (as any baptized person should) but also act as an agent of the institution of church. I have always understood that priestly orders give me the Good Housekeeping seal of approval of the Church to speak of God AND the organization. It is why we make vows to obey our bishops in matters of faith and morals. But it IS a crazy-making position. Those who lead are mortal and fallible. We have feet of clay and make huge blunders in our efforts to lead the people of God in the way of faith. And those of us who are priests--the ‘middle management’ often do not get to advocate for our flocks as we would like because the ‘shepherds’ who are in charge think of us as sheep as well.
To read the rest of her wonderful and revealing post, please go to her blog here.
Sometimes it is best to hold onto the thread of a calling, than to let go of it entirely.