Thursday, November 11, 2010

It takes all sorts

Comments on a post earlier this week prompted me to write a little bit more on the role of the clergy. This is a matter for hot debate at the moment, particularly in the light of the changing shape of the church and the need for more missional leaders.

Without attempting to produce the final answer to the question, I offer the following observations:
  1. The clergy are human. I know some people don't believe this (indeed some of the clergy themselves don't believe it), but they are. This means there is no ontological difference between the question "what is the role of the clergy" and "what is the role of people in all kinds of ministry".
  2. The parishes that the clergy serve are enormously diverse in their situation, character, needs, and aspirations.
  3. "Vicar" is a job description, but this is only part of what it is. Ordination is an attempt to recognise gifting for the benefit of the church, and gifting comes from the Holy Spirit who provides the huge kaleidoscope of gifts in the body of Christ, in which no one member is the same as another.
Putting this together, the obvious conclusion is that there is no generic answer to the question. "What the clergy do" depends on an interaction between the gifts and calling of the individual, and the needs and opportunities of the community they serve in.

I encounter a lot of dogmatism on this question, with all kinds of people pronouncing on what the role of the clergy should be in the future. It's good that we are thinking about this, but the idea that we should create a standard model into which all parish priests should be moulded is very silly.

The rapidly shifting situation that we now have is a great opportunity to promote diversity in ministry. There's still a need for pastoral priests with a sacramental, incarnational ministry. There's also a need for creative pioneers who can push back the boundaries of conventional church. There's a need for leaders who can hold the breadth of vision needed in large urban ministries. Read 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4, and grasp the multi-faceted nature of the gifts.

3 comments:

Rob Powys-Smith said...

Copy that. All makes very good sense to me. I set it our church leader who like you, motivates, envisions, cares for, mobilises, teaches, guides, empowers and humbles himself before God.

David said...

This may be a dumb question (although I don't think it is, otherwise I'd look it up), but I've been reading through some stuff about ministry in the Anglican church and one place was repeatedly talking about ministry that is 'priestly as well as diaconal'. What the flip does that mean? Sacramental as well as congregational? I'm lost ...

And in response to your post, I like what you say but the (very healthy) openness does kind of leave me asking why it's only church ministers who should be 'ordained' - should we not consider laying hands on and commissioning EVERY believer who receives a life-long call in a specific direction? But maybe I'm getting my lines crossed - I have had a couple of glasses of wine.

Charlie said...

David, the answer to that depends on who you ask.
From my perspective - of course, we could, perhaps should, and often do, specially commission people for all kinds of ministry. What the Church of England calls "ordination" is just a species of that. However, when I'm talking about the "ordained" I'm talking about Anglican clergy who, as well being Spiritually commissioned by the church, are also members of a particular Order of ministry. In my case, in common with most of my colleagues, I am a member of two - I was ordained to the Order of Deacons in 2002, and then a year later when I was ordained Priest, I didn't stop being a Deacon.
Hence the phrase "Diaconal as well as Priestly" (I suspect it was that way round). We don't recognise any Sacramental or Presbyterial ministry that isn't also a servant one.