Monthly Archives: May 2013

What does it mean to be a Priest in the Church of England?

I’ve just finished reading a recent book called: Managing Clergy Lives – Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy. There is much in the book that strikes a chord with my experience of life as a full time minister in the Church of England. There is a reminder of the issues caused by the blurred boundaries between the public and the private that all ministers struggle with. The book raises issues that come from living in a vicarage which very few who haven’t lived in tied accommodation have any real understanding of. It also looks at the financial sacrifice that is willingly and knowingly made by church ministers, but particularly by Church of England ministers who have no option about living in the vicarage that is provided for them and therefore many struggle with accommodation for retirement.

There is however one area that I find myself at odds with in this book, and possibly with some of my colleagues. This is summed up in the introduction to chapter 3:

“The ordination of a priest disciplines and governs body and soul during every waking hour from the moment of ordination, until death. Throughout this life, clergy believe that their physical, intellectual and emotional selves are permanently claimed for the service of God. Ordination is thus life-changing for all priests because it entails an enduring commitment to promises made to God. These promises require life-long and whole-hearted personal and embodied obedience to God’s service, as well as an adherence to the doctrine and governance of the Church. Put simply, in the words of parish priest Linda, ordination offers no ‘opt out clause’.”

And at the end of the following chapter:
“Clergy in the sample expressed and ontological understanding of the ‘indelible character change’ brought about sacramentally in ordination.”

I remember that at my ordination someone from the church we were part of, unhelpfully(!), said to Bella that I was now married to the church. The notion of being married to the church, or to God, in ordination is reported in this book alongside the notion that, like marriage, ordination is a life-long and life-changing sacrament that can only be broken by death.

Looking back before my ordination I can clearly remember being asked at my selection conference what difference I thought being ordained would make to me in my workplace and day to day life? (I was applying for Non-Stipendiary ministry or what is now called Self-Supporting ministry). My response was that I hoped it would not make any difference whatsoever! I should already be living my life as a Christian to the fullest extent possible in my workplace and it was my commitment to Jesus, not my ordination, that should determine how I lived.

This may sound shocking to some – but I don’t feel called by God to Anglican Priesthood! I believe God has called and gifted me as a leader within his church and in the Anglican church the way that is outworked is through being ordained as a priest.I believe strongly and wholeheartedly in the priesthood of all believers both in practice as well as in theology. I struggle with the very thing that some of my colleagues feel called to and fulfilled by – being an ordained priest.

I am ontologically (definition: of or relating to essence or the nature of being) no different to any other christian. We are all created by God, saved by God and called by God, as his children, to be a Royal Priesthood. All of us, not a few, not those selected for ordination, but every single christian believer, are called as Priests to serve God, each other and God’s world.

That is why I struggle with wearing robes in services. I’d be happy to wear robes if everyone else did (or as someone said to me recently is everyone came in suit and tie as happened 30-50 years ago!). Wearing robes, for me, sets me apart as being different, and as I understand the Bible that’s not true. If you attend services that I lead it is also why I often pronounce the absolution and the blessing using ‘us’ not ‘you’ because I don’t Biblically believe I have any more right to forgive sins or bless others than any other christian.

For me my commitment to serve God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength comes from my baptism. It is a commitment that will last until the day I die and beyond that into eternity. Like all of us I have my struggles, but I am utterly committed to living as a Christian until the day I die. That commitment affects every part of my life, the work I do, where I live, how I use my time, money and the possessions that God so generously gives. It affects my ethics, my morality and every other part of my life.

For me that is the commitment of every christian. You can’t take some of the bits of the christian faith and not others, it’s all or nothing. It’s far, far more than living a moral life (which is what so many in our society see as the definition of Christianity).

Most importantly however it’s a commitment that has it’s foundation and strength in my love for Jesus and my day by day relationship with God as his beloved and precious son. Out of our identity as children of God we are called to obedience and we do that willingly because we know Almighty God as our loving father.


Moneyball and Change in the Church

It’s a long time since I last posted anything on my blog! Six weeks ago or so I was reading a blog by another church leader and he recommended seeing a film called Moneyball. In fact he didn’t just recommend it he said: “If you haven’t seen the movie Mo
neyball yet, you need to. Like now. Click out of this window. Close your laptop. Get in the car. And go buy it. Not rent. Buy.”

I haven’t bought it, but I might. But we watched it last week. Interestingly at the same time I was preparing for my sermon last Sunday on how the early church responded to the radical challenges that Christianity brought to the Jews who made up the worshiping community of the church as it started. Based on the book called “The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why” by Phyllis Tickle, I talked about a 500 year cycle of upheaval and change within both the church and wider society. In the clip that I used she ended with these words: “we’re just lucky – we get to live through one!”

Our society has radically changed in the past 50 years or more and the pace of change doesn’t seem to be slowing or diminishing. Children today are being educated for jobs with technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. Work has changed, society has changed, views on morality and ethics have changed and community has radically changed. The church has also changed, but not nearly so radically. Sadly one of the changes has been that the number of people connected with church in the UK has greatly reduced. For many in our society today the church seems an archaic reflection of the past with little or no relevance to their lives today. I don’t agree with them, I believe that the Gospel has every relevance to life in 2013. The Gospel hasn’t changed however the way that it is communicated has to change.

What has that got to do with a film? Moneyball is about baseball – something I know nothing about. BUT the story of the film has everything to do with the state of the church today. The film is about the fascinating mix of men behind a major cultural shift in the game of baseball and how a risky vision, born from necessity, becomes reality, when a ragtag team of cast-offs rejected due to unfounded biases, get the chance to finally prove their potential.

In the game of baseball there is received wisdom as to how you pick and run a team of players. It’s always been done this way and it’s the only way of running a professional team. Two men see a different way to pick and run a team and they risk everything to do just that. They go against the received wisdom, they fight against the way things have always been done. They fail, but they keep going. They force their way on others who don’t agree, willing to take the criticism and the knock-backs. They keep going until the team starts to win, and then carries on winning and achieves an all time record for the number of consecutive wins.

Towards the end of the film the owner of one of the richest baseball teams offers the coach who has risked his career on a new system a once in a lifetime offer. In doing so he says: “The first one through the wall always gets bloody.”

What if we’ve been trying to build church based on the wrong principles for decades, if not centuries? We may not have known the foundations and principles were wrong, but they were all we knew. What if there are new principles, principles that make the Gospel understandable to the majority in our nation who never darken the doors of our church buildings? Maybe, just maybe, we need to seek God for the principles and foundations for making disciples in the 21st Century and allow him to build his church which will probably look different to anything we’ve known before?

“If you haven’t seen the movie Moneyball yet, you need to. Like now. Click out of this window. Close your laptop. Get in the car. And go buy it. Not rent. Buy.”