How Does the 40th Anniversary Inspire Us?

by Lisa G. Fischbeck

In July we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. Though the first 11 women were ordained before the General Convention of the Church had given its approval (that would come two years later), the ordination of the “Philadelphia 11” was the beginning.

When our nation celebrates the life of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, on MLK Day each year, we recall the stories of the Civil Rights Movement and of Dr. King’s pivotal role in that Movement. But also we consider how that story might inspire us to carry on the life and legacy of Dr. King in our world today. Many respond by illuminating and crossing, if only for a day, the racial barriers that still exist. Others look for ways to serve and engage with those who are on the margins of our society today, or to take a stand against current injustice.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church on July 29, 1974, we remember the event. We tell the stories of the women who were called and who were willing and courageous enough to come forward. We tell the stories of the bishops and other male clergy who were willing to stand against the traditional and canonical ways of church polity and culture. We lift up the proponents, and we remember the opponents. We reflect on how those people, and that event, inspire us as a church today. There are many dimensions to that inspiration.

The first is to see the ordination of the Philadelphia 11 as a celebration of women in the Church. We trace the role of women throughout the history of the church, locally and globally. Time lines are created, short and long biographies written. The single event is seen in a context of an historical progression. Any obstacles or barriers to full involvement of women in the Church are illuminated as a focus for our future efforts. Many of these barriers are seen in developing nations, tempting American Episcopalians to become so focused on the church “over there” that we grow distracted from what needs to be done to clean up our own house here.

Second, the ordination of the Philadelphia 11 can be seen as a celebration of inclusion in the Church. The call for inclusion is very much rooted in an understanding of Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus pitched a big tent. Those who follow Jesus are continuously challenged to consider how God might be nudging us to open the tent of the Church more widely still.

Historically, the work for equal rites for women was closely followed by a call for equal rites for LGBT Christians. Not just access to ordination, but also to the church’s blessing of their loving and committed relationships. There is still a lot of work to be done in this regard. Not only for women and LGBT Christians, and not only for those excluded by our polity, but also for those excluded by our patterns and practices.

Third the ordination of the Philadelphia 11 can be seen as a celebration of justice. The ordination of women followed close on the heels of the women’s movement in the United States, which called for equal rights for women. For many outside of the church, and many within the church, the ordination of women was “a women’s rights issue”. Regardless of Scripture or Tradition, these proponents of women’s ordination believed passionately that women deserved full and equal access to all that men had access to. This, frankly, was off-putting to those who believed that consideration of women’s ordination was theological and not political. That rather than being a women’s right issue, it was a matter of following the teaching of Jesus, or expanding our theological understanding of the priesthood, or reinterpreting the Tradition of the Church. Nonetheless, the inspiration of the Philadelphia 11, calls us to be bolder in addressing issues of injustice in our church and world today. Immigrants, voters, victims of our criminal justice system and more, all cry out for help from a justice-minded Church.

A fourth, and perhaps the most challenging dimension to our celebration of the 40th anniversary of the ordination of 11 women, is to see it as a celebration of change in the Church. Whenever there is change, old ways of doing and perceiving have to die. The ordination of women fundamentally changed the way the Episcopal Church perceived ordination and church leadership. Beyond women, inclusion and justice, the church was called deeply to consider what ordination was all about. Who, and what, is the priest at the altar, and how do we determine who can be ordained? How do gendered appellations for church, God, and “Reverends”, shape our understanding of what is possible, and what is Truth? Even more fundamentally, how do we interpret the Tradition? How do we interpret the Scriptures? This 40th anniversary extends an invitation to us all to reflect on how change happens, or does not happen, in the church.

We know how it happens according to the Canons of the Church. Resolutions of General Convention lead to a re-working of the Constitutions and Canons and/or the Book of Common Prayer. But what happens before those resolutions are passed is not always so clear. Truth be told, change in the church often happens after a faithful few step outside the existing polity and practice of the church, and give witness to another way. ie: they are willing and able to “push the envelope”, as happened in Philadelphia in 1974. There is a certain “chicken and egg” aspect to change in our church. Resolutions of Convention move practice in the church. Practice in the Church moves resolutions in Convention.

The Philadelphia 11, and those who supported and ordained them, inspire us to consider the aspects of our life and polity today that might need to be similarly challenged. How are we being called to step outside our polity, practice and pattern in order to push the envelope? Even more, what are we willing to let die in order for life-giving change to happen, in order for the church to be a more faithful witness in our own day and age?

It could be how we prepare people for ordination, or what is required of those taking on leadership in the church. Maybe it is how we worship, or who has the authority or the license to do what, and how do they gain that authority or license. It likely has something to do with how the Church will faithfully engage with an increasingly secularized society that grows more global and diverse every day, and also more entrenched in one polarity or another.

If the Holy Spirit is alive and well and moving in the Church, as we believe, change will come. The Philadelphia 11, and those who supported and ordained them, inspire us to embrace that change, and be faithful.


The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a mission in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

A Celebration of Women's Ministry

A Celebration of Women’s Ministry for the 40th anniversary of the first women to be ordained priests in the Episcopal Church

by Rebecca Lyman

I love the Canaanite woman—or the Syro-Phoenician woman-- or the African woman or the Asian or the Hispanic or the Muslim or the poor or the gay or the uneducated woman.

Let’s call her Marge or Isabel or Jun or Aziza. Let’s say she smells and she is pushy and past her prime, a bit wrecked, a bit fat, and no husband or brother or father in sight. Or maybe she is beautifully dressed with a Kate Spade handbag and nervous about talking to a wandering holy man on the wrong side of town. Because whoever she is, as a woman, she is out of her place— just another mother with another sick kid.

And Jesus doesn’t answer her. Not until the disciples urged him to get rid of this noisy pest. And perhaps some of the female disciples were in on it too. Certainly you want to fit in with the pack of jostling searching egos.

So Jesus explains to her the legality of the situation. He is sent to heal his own people, the lost sheep of Israel. She then kneels before him and says, “Help me.” And he falls back on economic and legal rationalizations: “It is not fair to take children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She does not bat an eye: “Of course, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from beneath the table.”

326px-Folio_164r_-_The_Canaanite_Woman.jpgFor the only time in the New Testament Jesus changes his mind. I hope he smiled like any good debating rabbi who enjoys the logical correction. I hope in fact he loved dogs, for we know he loved children.

But mainly I hope he was humbled and renewed to see modeled before him what he had momentarily forgotten he was: the Word and Wisdom of God willing to humbled for the needs of the sick and lost and possessed and invisible; Wisdom crying in the streets to the simple since the scoffers and the fools and the haters could not hear and would not see that the mercy of grace is woven into the very foundations of all that God loves and creates, especially the good people, the green people rooted in the sun, shining. I hope all the disciples, male and female, also learned repentance by watching him listen and change.

And I hope when our fearful battered St Thomas Cranmer was dragged out into the pale Oxford sunlight to be burned for recanting his recantation, he remembered her too. He had corrected her in his own prayer of humble access: we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs beneath the table. Now stripped of his titles and even his virtue, perhaps he was comforted by finally talking back, becoming the Canaanite woman, a father unable to stop crying out to heal his only child, our Anglican church.

This morning we celebrate the humility and repentance of our church for finding the lost coin, for including the hundredth sheep, for recognizing the vocations and ministry of women. We are all part of this old hospital of sinners which creaks and moans and delays like an old bobbling ark until gestations of justice come forth to shock and split and amaze us in rebirth: ever ancient, ever new. We love it for it carries the Spirit of freedom and renewal within its old fierce conservative soul. Just like us the Church is frightened, heroic, bold, inconsistent, and saved by grace. We are all as Zachariah called us “prisoners of hope” (9.12) and as Adrienne Rich says full of “a wild patience” (“Integrity”). Who would think wanting to be good would make us so radical?

Forty years ago eleven brave women were ordained to the priesthood by three male bishops. They were certainly not the first “ministers” of the Christian church from Phoebe the deacon to the apostle Junia to Mary Magdalene to Paula the biblical scholar to Hilda the abbess to Leoba the missionary to Julian and Margery and Hildegard and Catherine and Teresa and Joan of Arc and the deaconesses and the missionaries and the lay church workers and the altar guild. And these are only those we know, for then as now the sheer activity of women in Christianity remains hidden, the underground artesian well, the warp of the fabric of unity, full pressed down and running over like the power of Wisdom itself: the tough, the annual, the wild poppy which needs nothing but a root to flourish: the women, really only writ large what is also called so patronizingly “the laity”, the “unprofessional” as if Christian life could have assigned levels of spiritual expertise.

Nor were these eleven the first ordinations in the Anglican Communion. The first was Florence Li Tim-Oi in China in 1944, quickly limited as a local exception. Here in San Francisco in 1965 Bishop Pike recognized Phyllis Edwards as a deacon. But these brave eleven were called—a challenge to the tranquility of divine providence usually working in the church--- ordained as deacons and were prepared to be priests. Many supported them, including men who refused to be ordained until women were ordained and the three retired bishops who heeded their consciences to lay hands upon them. All of them women and men together deciding ten years after the Civil Rights movement, in the midst of Watergate and in the last stages of the Vietnam war that institutions must be challenged to be changed. In the words of Stringfellow and Wink they saw how institutions become powers and principalities in spite of themselves, even and most heartbreakingly the Body of Christ. The ordinations were illegal according to canon law. The bishops met in emergency session at O’Hare Airport, disrupting their retreats and summer vacations. And some bishops then saw they had forgotten who they were---servants of need, faithful to the Spirit in all vocations; they remembered the only traditional legality of ordination was a bishop in accordance with the ordination rite. We all began to remember who we were. We caught up with the diverse leadership of the first century.

None of this was easy—it still isn’t and quite honestly the beloved community of forgiveness and new life never is in this blessed and bloody world. Twenty years ago when I was ordained, a conservative colleague said to me, “Now tell me, this is all a political act really, isn’t it?” For we don’t need the Supreme Court or the statistics about pay and leadership or our own self-doubts or our interrupted speech to tell us that equality and justice and respect come slowly. And I don’t know if we women are more relational or more grounded or maternal or verdant or emotional—at least not yet. It is hard for all of us, male or female, to remember or know who we are when the ground shifts beneath us whether by choice or chance. I do know that the white economic and educational privilege, which has imbued the ethos of the Episcopal Church, does not go away quietly, and a toxic clericalism can easily choke our gospel humility. We have our reward.

The ministry of women is part of the groundswell of ordinary humanity in the church: the blooming of holy people as Hildegard of Bingen would say, to remember God works from the ground up, not the top down. God works in the still small voice which called and empowered and sustains and emboldens and purifies and heals all of us together, all called to be the face and hands and voice of Christ to one another in the world: I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22.27).

God comes to make us all human, wholly in body as well as spirit and mind—comes to heal and feed and relieve and restore. For the uncomfortable truth of the gospel of Jesus and Paul is that “suffering makes us better than we ever wanted to be” (The Diary of the Country Priest). These divisions and fears and defenses are the necessary way into repentance, into the new reign of God that must break our Western hierarchies and racial segregations and economic stratification; the suffering humanity in Palestine or the Texas border or without water in Detroit or the routine shootings in Chicago or evictions in San Francisco cry out to expose our ideologies of privilege, which erase and justify violence and dehumanization. We need each other to be whole and human as we point toward a future we do not yet see, but know in hope to be the only true reality. “We are prophets of a future not our own” (Bishop Edward Untener, Saginaw).

Repentance creates growth; patience is essential to courage; joy does not block the mystery; struggle is not failure. We are of course penultimate, but we do flow into in the stream of a larger Love. Let us remember and rejoice in who we are— all of us together the children of Wisdom. Let me leave you with this image of our church from Marge Piercy’s poem, “For Strong women”:

Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Be of good courage; Christ has overcome the world!


Preached 12 July 2014 at Grace Cathedral. The Rev Dr Rebecca Lyman is the Samuel Garrett Professor of Church History emerita at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.

"Folio 164r - The Canaanite Woman". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Clergy as professional revolutionaries

by George Clifford

Recently, I read Edward Dreyer's history of wars in China during the first half of the twentieth century, China at War: 1901-1949 (London: Longman, 1995). Unless you have a particular interest in, and background knowledge of, those wars I do not recommend that you make the effort to read this specialist volume. What drew my attention to the book was that my father had served in the U.S. Navy in China during WWII, assigned as the personnel officer of a then highly secret unit—the Sino American Cooperative Organization. That unit received only one oblique reference, and then by another name that I recognized only because I was familiar with unit's the history.

One of Dreyer's paragraphs, unrelated to WWII, did catch my attention. In the late 1920s, Sun Yat-sen had independently evolved many of the features of Leninist party organization (a small corps of professional revolutionaries supported by a larger body of dues-paying members, all obeying the party leader through a cellular organization). Communism used the same structure to serve an entirely different theory of history—whose pretensions to scientific status were taken more seriously than they would be today—according to which a Chinese Communist Party might be considered premature. (pp. 120-121)

Sun Yat-sen was the driving force behind a movement to supplant the last Chinese imperial dynasty with a democratic republic. His model was the United States; he drew particular inspiration from the US Constitution. The Chinese republic quickly floundered, leading to the Nationalist movement under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership that, following WWII, unsuccessfully competed for dominance with the Communists, led by Mao, in China.

What struck me about Dreyer's paragraph was that both sides in the future conflict initially relied upon the same organizational strategy to establish themselves: "a small corps of professional revolutionaries supported by a larger body of dues-paying members."

That resembles, although expressed in secular terms, the organizational pattern of the Christian Church. We don't have dues paying members, but we do have members who contribute tithes and offerings. Although individuals determine how much to give (unlike organizational dues and unlike the thankfully repudiated pew rent system of previous centuries), a large number of donors supports a small cadre of professional revolutionaries (aka the clergy).

I like the image of the clergy as professional revolutionaries. Theoretically, Christianity is a revolutionary endeavor, intended to reorient a community and people radically toward the living God by following the Jesus path. The term professional revolutionary avoids baggage laden biblical terms such as evangelist and missionary while preserving the underlying concept. Of course, many people find the term revolutionary even more troubling, because that term suggests that Christianity initiates radical change. Tellingly, contemporary biblical scholars attribute Jesus' death to the Romans regarding him as a revolutionary, providing an appropriate role model for clergy ordained in his service.

The Constantinian settlement that led to the establishment of the Church as the official religion of the Roman Empire brought many advantages. Unfortunately, one significant disadvantage that resulted from establishment is that the clergy ceased to be professional revolutionaries and instead became professional guardians of the status quo. No longer did most clergy believe that they needed to change the world and people radically; after all, the Christian world was supposedly just that, Christian.

Yet there is a dramatic and substantive dissonance between the gospel and the world, e.g., the practice of radical love is exceptionally rare. Perhaps William Stringfellow and others correctly characterize today's Church as existing in a period of Babylonian captivity. Alternatively, but with a wry sense of humor, we Anglicans might appropriately refer to the Church's present situation as a Victorian captivity.

Our clergy too often fill a role, and those who sit in the pews too often expect their clergy to fill a role, more akin to that of chaplain or pastor (i.e., caring for the people of God, especially by maintaining the status quo). This is a legacy of establishment, when people thought Christendom was synonymous with civil society. Consequently, many clergy no longer function in the more challenging role, especially in this era of postmodern skepticism, of missionary (i.e., a professionally revolutionary who brings the life-altering message of Jesus to broken, hurting people).

In a prior Daily Episcopalian post, Do Churches exist to support the clergy?, I argued that a great many Episcopal congregations do not need full-time clergy because of the congregation's small numbers. In other Daily Episcopalian posts (e.g., Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?), I have argued that many of our small congregations are in the wrong locations, such as areas of declining population.

What might happen if we Episcopalians re-conceptualized the role of our parish clergy from pastor/chaplain to professional revolutionary? What might happen if our clergy began to think of themselves as professional revolutionaries and to act accordingly? What would happen if clergy spent 90% of their time with the unchurched and 10% of their time with the church people whose giving pays their stipend AND if the church expected (or even demanded) this pattern of ministry? In short, perhaps it's time that we took our commitment to emulate Jesus more seriously, recognizing that Christendom—if it ever existed—is long gone.


George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

10 things they did not tell me about being a priest

by Ann Fontaine

I was ordained on the Day of Epiphany 1996. Though I had been a very active Episcopalian and lay preacher, Eucharistic minister, serving in every area of the church: from Sunday School to Executive Council, for 20 years before ordination, I did not expect what I have discovered about being a priest. I resisted allowing myself to pursue this course of life for many years. If only I had known what was in store for me:

1. The wonderful privilege of presiding at the sacraments (well maybe not so much weddings unless the couple really loves what the rite offers them).

2. Working with an abundance of self giving leaders who serve as Senior Wardens, Junior Wardens, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, Altar Guild, and all those who just quietly go about getting things done. Serving throughout the years as an interim priest, I was particularly blessed with wise and thoughtful Senior Wardens who were colleagues in healing and re-focussing their churches

3. The lawn mowing and gardening teams who keep the properties looking loved.

4. The questions about faith and life and the deep discussions about things that matter.

5. Being allowed to attend the dying, when we gather and sit and pray a person into the next part of their journey. As well as the opportunity to be with those whose lives will never be the same reaching out to each other, healing old wounds, being honest (not always -but often)

6. Preparing for and giving sermons - a process that almost always brings me new insights and the presence of the Holy Spirit. With thanks to my homiletics professor who made us really dig into the text and would not let us off with easy answers.

7. Children with hands held out to receive the bread and the wine, like the little boy who wrote thank and you on his hands - upside down so I would read them as he held out his hands or the little girl whose mother did not think she was old enough to receive but who slid her hands under the railing and looked at me with big understanding eyes.

8. Telling Bible stories that are both hilarious and endlessly revealing of who we are and who God is and how it all fits together.

9. Praying with people and thanks to the Assembly of God VA chaplain of my summer of CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] who made this life-long Episcopalian of the Book of Common Prayer pray spontaneously at any moment!

10. And the most amazing sense of standing in the center of time when presiding at the Eucharist with all that went before and all that will be flowing through me at that moment of epiclesis.

If only I had known that I would never be more myself than in my life as a priest. Thanks to all who supported me along the way and allowed me to have this gift.


The Rev. Ann Fontaine is a retired priest who lives on the coast of Oregon and staff for Episcopal Café. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The angry priest or the boorish photographer?

by Andrew Gerns

Nearly everyone has experienced the insensitive photographer. Especially if you’ve ever presided at a wedding or a baptism.

My favorite moment came when I was doing a baptism and as the infant-candidate, the parents and sponsors gathered with me around the font, and after I invited all the children in the room to come forward and join us there, I looked up to see nearly every single adult friend and family member holding up a camera, video camera or phone.

My first thought was “I wish I had a picture of this…!”

Here was an image of how we have come to mediate our experience of the world: through a screen. We see only what we record.

But there have been times when things were more annoying. When a photographer
searches for the perfect shot but is completely unconscious of his or her context, they end up just getting in the way.

I once did a wedding where, just as the wedding party was gathered around the couple, a guy with a video camera was prowling around the group like a tiger getting reaction shots of not only the bride and groom but each member of the wedding party. I could see faces of each member of the wedding party as they reacted to the lens. The act of recording the moment had become the moment.

I was lucky. The mother of the bride, using nothing more than “The Look,” firmly directed the guy to “Sit! Stay!”

So when a video went viral showing an Episcopal priest telling a videographer, who had been shooting over his shoulder, to leave, I was sympathetic. First of all, it is clear from the video that the wedding was not in a church but at a park or catering facility, so he was doing a sacred rite at a secular location. This can be awkward because the priest tends to be seen as nothing more than 'hired help.'

When he said that the ceremony was not about the pictures but “about God,” I knew what he was saying: that this is a sacred moment, and the videographers were stealing from that by their intrusion. So part of me cheered a bit because the videographer earned the admonition.

On the other hand, the only image we have is of “The Angry Priest,” and the meme is the ruined wedding. That has become “The Story.”

The on-line comments appear to split 50-50. I have seen blog posts taking both sides. Interestingly, while there are lot of people mad at the priest for tossing out the cameraman and ruining the couple's wedding, no one appears to be mad at the cameraman for posting the altercation on YouTube and defining forever how the wedding is remembered.

Mark Twain once said “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” These days, when electrons are cheap and when everyone can be both a producer and publisher of content, it will not do to make a frontal assault against a culture that mediates experience through the screen. All it does is makes us look angry.

Although this never occurs to us when we are tripping over an over-zealous shutterbug, the truth is that we can’t be angry at the photographer one day and then the next bemoan that our message is not getting out. We can’t have it both ways.

Christians are in the story-telling business. And our story is Good News! We want to use these tools to communicate. As a parish priest, I love having pics and videos of worship because, well done, they tell people what we do and who we are. That means we can't snarl at photographers while expecting to use their product.

So I try to negotiate and educate. Sometimes it even works.

During the process of wedding and baptismal preparation, I direct the couple or family to tell their guests to limit their photography so that everyone can give their full attention to the moment. They should tell their friends that there will be one or two official photographers and that there will be pictures of the liturgy available later from them via e-mail, Facebook, Pinterest or some other form.

For weddings, I also have the couple give me the names of the photographers and I call them and invite them to the rehearsal as well as the wedding. This helps the photographer understand the blocking and timing, it also helps me clarify expectations and solve any unique problems. And it gives the photographer a wealth of candids.

Additionally, I have developed a list of photographers that we recommend, just as we do florists. They know our space and how we work and will make life easier for the couple.

And lastly, I ask both official and unofficial photographers to send me the pictures and grant the church the right to use them for our own communications.

All of this still doesn't prevent an intrusive photographer from happening. Just two weeks ago I did a wedding where the bride’s son, all 6'4" of him, was trying to catch the action on a pocket video camera. It was a small church and his large frame was going to block everyone's view. Of course, everyone was looking at him and not what was happening. Also, the official photographer--who was doing as I asked-- did not appreciate that she was being limited while this unpaid visitor was doing as he pleased. I did not stop the liturgy, but I did walk over to him (and, yes, still in full view of the group) at the first “break” in the action and quietly asked him to step aside and park himself in a spot where he could still take the pictures of his mother and not distract people from witnessing and blessing her marriage.

In a world where we more and more mediate experience through screens, one of the things we can do as a church is remind people that the best photographs, films and videos describe, highlight and interpret a much bigger world. The idea is to both communicate and take us back to a moment in time that is bigger than our perceptions and means more to us than we even realized in the moment. In other words, what photography does is very much like what liturgy does.

Both can connect us, aid in interpreting our experience, and help us makes memory.

Both liturgy and media help us know, tell and live our story.

But bad photography (and unconscious photographers) can like bad liturgy (and unconscious celebrants) get in the way. This is what happened in the video when it went viral: the conversation became about “The Angry Priest vs. The Boorish Photographers” when we should have been celebrating the couple’s marriage.

Photographic technology is so accessible that we forget all the work that goes into a good production. Similarly, a good liturgy should look easy because all the practice has paid off. One of the pastoral challenges of our day is to bring the two together in ways that allow us to see more deeply into the world God has placed us in and contribute to the ongoing story of God’s unfolding, creative love.


The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pennsylvania, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Bethlehem, and a member of the newsteam of the Episcopal Café.

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Collars

by Jim Papile

Following up on the Café conversation, September 15-17, on the practice of calling one's cleric Father, Mother, Reverend, etc., I have been thinking about the other public aspects of ordained ministry, like the clerical collar. Has the frequency of wearing, or the reasons for wearing a dog collar changed as the Church has/is changing?

After some quick research it seems that the practice of clergy of many denominations wearing white collars about 150 years old or so. In the Anglican world it was customary for men to wear a white tie, something like a cravat around their necks, look for the local vicar in a Jane Austin film. There is some evidence that Roman priests began to wear collars by protecting their necks from the rough edges of wool cassock collars by adding linen collarettes. Whatever the reason, practical or arcane, the practice stuck.

Being an ordained person in the Diocese of Virginia, I am aware that there are regional, and theological differences in the practice of wearing a strip of white material around one's neck, an essentially uncomfortable practice, I have found. "Low Church," ministers have long gone for non-clerical neckwear for men, the bow-tie is often jokingly referred to as the clerical neckwear of choice for male priests in Virginia. "High Church," Anglo-Catholic types routinely choose the tab style, one inch of white plastic in a band of black shirt material. There seems to be a north, south thing going on too, but that may coincide with the church-personship aspects described above. Fewer collars in the South, more in the North.

There is also the considerations of who wears a collar when. Not withstanding the old joke that the curate wears a collar in the shower, some clergy wear collars at all public functions, say a school concert their child is participating in, some wear them to work every day, some wear them most work days, some only on Sunday. What about the demographics? Do women wear collars more often than men? Older priests, say over fifty more often than those under fifty?

I do a lot of my work outside of the church building these days. Book groups in coffee houses, theology discussions in restaurants, or just sitting in a local Starbucks working on a sermon. What are the pros and cons of wearing a collar in public places. I think over the years it's been about fifty-fifty, wearing a collar on an airplane; some, always, some never. There is extensive evidence that the nature of the Christian/Post-Christian world is changing, rapidly. I wonder if attitudes about clergy attire is changing too? Are collars helpful or off-putting in seeking the un-churched? Do clergy use them as symbols of authority and power, or are they, like a wise friend once said, "great screens on which many put their projections.

Jim Papile is rector of St. Anne's Reston Virginia. Originally from Boston, he is a proud member of Red Sox Nation.

Call no one father

by Mark Stanley

Isn’t it time that we stopped using the title “Father” for priests? Even though Jesus said, “Call no one Father” (Matthew 23:9), I don’t think we need to use the literal sense of that text as the foundation for this change.

I would start with the baptismal theology of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer. One of the great thrusts of our current Prayer Book is honoring the ministry of the laity. What is most important is that we are all baptized. As baptized members of Christ’s body, we have ministries either as lay or ordained people. So why should priests get a special (and seemingly superior) title? What is meant as a sign of respect towards the clergy seems to reinforce an outmoded hierarchy.

I know a priest who likes to be called Father because “I have worked so hard for this role and I want the respect this vocation deserves.” This is certainly a valid concern in a societal context where all authority figures are getting less respect. My response is that authentic respect flows from who we are and not what we are called. Our pastoral leadership and spiritual presence, and not any special title, will be the real source of a congregation giving us authority.

In addition, with the ordination of women in 1976 we have changed who can be in the priesthood. Is there an equivalent title to “Father” for women? Some women clergy like being called “Mother.” Others can’t stand it. It doesn’t help that “Mother” is also a title used by Roman Catholic nuns. In the Episcopal Church we have both genders ordained. This decision has consequences. We just can’t have one gender with a standard title that does not work for all. This seems like a simple issue of justice. Are men who like the title “Father” willing to let this title go for the sake of our clergy sisters?

Is “Father” really even the best title to describe what a priest does? I remember being a newly ordained 25 year old priest and having an elderly woman in our parish continually calling me “Father.” Do I really function like a father to her? This puts me in the parent role and her in the child position. It can actually be harming the spiritual development of parishioners to be putting them in this infantilizing position.

Furthermore, using the title Father creates the potential for theological confusion. Imagine a priest about to lead the Lord’s Prayer. It is then announced “Father Smith will now lead us in the ‘Our Father.’” Here is a situation where you are calling God “Father” in close connection with calling the priest “Father.” Is this ordained human being really in the same role as the Divine? Unfortunately some people already fall into that misunderstanding. Having a spiritual leader with the same title as the first person of the Trinity is just not a good set up for anyone.

In general I think people should be able to be called whatever they want. However when a title has the potential of getting in the way of the mission of the church, I would hope that people would be willing to make a change. Even if that change requires the sacrifice of a beloved title.

I don’t have the answer to what priests should be called. I do know that whatever we are called it should be the same title for both men and women. I find that it feels great to be a pastoral leader who is on a mutual first name basis with the people in my parish. They seem to like it too. So I propose we stick with the most meaningful names we have, our baptismal names – the names with which we are marked as Christ’s own forever.


Mark Stanley is the Rector of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Baltimore, Maryland.

Gathering2013: A call for change from inside the house

by Jered Weber-Johnson and Emily Wachner

Jered: The genesis for Gathering2013 came in 1997 at Gathering the Next Generation (GTNG), the first national convening of GenX clergy in the Episcopal Church. One of the original conveners, Christopher Martin, invited the then almost 300 GenX Episcopal priests. More than half of them accepted, connections were created, and the church changed. Over 20 years later, Christopher invited four more of us to plan and convene a new gathering, one that would include both GenX and Millennial priests. Our goal: invite bright, entrepreneurial, and interesting individuals from these two generations for a four-day peer-led gathering in the Rockies. In addition to Christopher, the team of conveners included Amy McCreath, Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Emily Wachner, and me, Jered Weber-Johnson. With a generous grant from Trinity Wall Street, we were able to invite over a hundred GenX and Millennial priests and bishops – eighty-seven came.

Emily and I were tasked with facilitation, and, we can assure you, few things are more terrifying than leading a cohort of your peers – particularly when those peers are priests (priests being notorious conference connoisseurs and fussy about facilitation).

Emily: Jered and I felt deeply that, like most other priests, GenXers and Millennials were hungry for inspiration and connection; we trusted that, if we could achieve those goals, some kind of movement towards change would naturally emerge, but we weren’t sure what kind of change – we had no agenda other than leading the group to where its heart already wanted to go.

We were aware that conversations centered around dissatisfaction could easily lead a group of church-nerds to sink down into an unproductive week of complaining, and we knew that the success of the conference hinged upon our ability to facilitate a hopeful conversation that was also introspective for each attendee.

Back in 1997, when the GenXers first gathered, they were a marginalized group that was (and still is) statistically underrepresented in the church. The cohort that emerged from that first gathering sought to change the church from without – and, as Jered noted, successfully did so. A surge in young vocations followed that gathering, and movements like The Micah Project were a direct result of GTNG.

That said, Jered and I both felt it was important that, if we were going to talk about changing the church at this conference, we had to do so from an insider’s perspective. Our attendees included bishops, cathedral deans, many rectors of prominent Episcopal parishes, and leaders of major church institutions. This time, as we said, the call (for change) was coming from inside the house.

Jered: We strongly believed that we needed a process which would enable us to find a common voice. I was sure Public Narrative could get us there. Emily and I and our co-conveners listened carefully to the stories being told. Through those stories we heard that, far more than demographics, what clearly connected us and powerfully bound us together were a common set of values. As we look back at the conversation started at GTNG in 1997, the values bear a striking resemblance – the centrality of connection and community through the body of Christ, the importance of confronting culture as a part of Christian witness, the desire to live and minister without fear, the yearning to live faithfully within and out of brokenness, as well as a hunger for personal and corporate transformation rooted in the gospel. And, above and over all of this, the abiding sense that what most unites us is the work of witnessing Jesus, of being connected and connecting others in this sinful and broken world, to a life-giving relationship with Jesus.

They say there’s nothing new under the sun. These were nearly the same common values that GenXers articulated over two decades prior at GTNG, and if we are honest, these are the same values that have kept the church true to the mission of God in every generation. Yet, here we were, a cohort of young priests sharing how much we felt like these powerful and commonly held values were often shelved in our own ministries. The lament was echoed over and again that we often felt like we were tending to the church like a palliative patient instead of using our positions and ministries to bring about the new life of the spirit of Jesus. Something had to change.

Emily: What made this different than any other gathering of clergy focused on changing the church? Good priests (and bishops, and deacons, and lay people) have gathered before in the name of bringing about the Kingdom of God, and have frequently failed. Having some familiarity with Kagan’s brilliant book Immunity to Change, as facilitated by Hugh O’Doherty through the Clergy Leadership Project, I was convinced that small-group work focused on the values and fears that govern our own behavior would be absolutely necessary – an abstract goal would get us nowhere.

Jered: The change we were looking for was internal and specific (concrete even), and yet in order to work we had to endeavor to face that change together. Personal change is all well and good unless it loses the thread of common and shared responsibility. In Christian language, we were asking the group to undertake a general confession – we had to trust that we meant it when we named the things done and left undone, which were undermining our ability to partner in the mission of God. We had to trust together that we were willing, with God’s help, to repent, to change, and to grow in real and tangible ways.

As such, it was also appropriate that we would connect, at the end of our time together, around five very practical conversations. How could we better support one another in 1) deepening our prayer lives, 2) disentangling ourselves from careerism and striving for success, 3) confessing our faults and fears and flaws, 4) proclaiming Jesus to a our own culture, and in 5) finding and being found by Jesus all over again? Real solutions were discussed. Real test cases were proposed. At the end, bubbling underneath our excitement at having been together was the sense that, in the best possible way, we were powerful. We had discovered what needed changing, and it was within us, it was us! And, we had discovered the means of changing. As St. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.

To that we can only add, amen, and amen!

Into the Woods: installation of a Vicar

by Anthony "Bud" Thurston

I’ve chosen some words from the Broadway musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, entitled, “Into the Woods.” This musical is essentially a parable about foreboding wilderness and bright hilltops; about superficial deceit and deep human compassion; about terrifying wolves and giants and warm and engaging children—and at one and the same time this musical has dark implications as well as a sweet simplicity.

In other words, “Into the Woods” is a musical about what it means to be an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church and what it means to serve the people of God in this community. What is happening to all of you tonight---vicar and parishioners—if we’re willing to tell the truth--brings with it both foreboding wilderness and bright hilltops, superficial deceit and deep human compassion, terrifying wolves and giants and warm and engaging children—both dark implications and sweet simplicity.

Remember the words sung by the whole cast at the end of the play? It goes like this:

Though it’s fearful,
Though it’s deep, though it’s dark,
And though you may encounter wolves,
You can’t just act,
You have to listen.
You can’t just act,
You have to think.
So it’s
Into the woods
You go again,
You have to
Every now and then.

Into the woods,
No telling when,
Be ready for the journey.

In many ways, Patricia, I think this installation puts you into the woods…and, as the song says, at times “the way is dark, the light is dim, but now there’s you, me, her and him…so you are not alone. No one is alone”.

What I have to say to you and to this community gathered here tonight is nothing fancy, nothing pious, nothing really very new. It’s just some good advice from a friend, a fellow priest and a person who wishes you all the best in your ministry…and someone who has come to know you and appreciates your many unique gifts and talents --and someone who personally and professionally admires you.
So here we go…….

First, be who you are. There is a lot of mythology in our church that says you are a “role” before you are a person. You are not here to be a thespian or actor—this parish is not theater—this isn’t make-believe. This is real life. And you are the right person to be able to give who you are to this congregation and community.

Secondly, a lot has been said about the importance of clergy providing leisure time for themselves. My suggestion is that you worry less about leisure time and concentrate on hard work. Edison was right: Genius is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. This parish will take work and all of the skills that you posses to decide which issues are the most important. Since the church is only the church in community, it will take effort to know how this church can continue to be alive in the community of Nehalem/Manzanita and beyond. I’ve already said that you have some particular and special talents to use in being a co-creator with God, but it will take much work and effort on your part and the part of the people of St. Catherine’s.

Third, related to this…you have to pick your battles. Probably enough said on that one.

Fourth, don’t waffle on the issues. Doug Fontaine who used to be the Dean of St. Mark’s in Minneapolis told me more than once, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.” Unlike the Apostle Paul, we can’t be “all things to all people” without speaking out of two sides of our mouth. Call ‘em the way you see ‘em…be loving (and I know that you are), but be clear.

Fifth, everybody will tell you that you are called as a vicar to be a prophet. It’s important to be a prophet. But a modest caveat: I’ve found that it is prudent, for the most part, to reserve your prophetic instincts to when you have been invited to preach at someone else’s parish. So invite “visiting prophets” here...and do it around the issues that you, yourself, wish everyone to be clear about.

Sixth, don’t take yourself, or anyone else, too seriously. When people tell you that you are the greatest priest they have ever know, thank them, and remember the sinner that you really are. Then, when people rail at you and suggest that you are the singular curse upon Christendom, thank them, and remember that you are made in the image of God, you are absolutely unique, and you are intimately and forever loved by God. I know that you have a wonderful capacity for fairness and humor. God knows this place will need it, you will need it, and this community will find it refreshing.

The musical, “Into the Woods” concludes with these words:

Into the woods—
You have to grope,
But that’s the way
You learn to cope.

Into the woods
To find there’s hope,
Of getting through the journey.

Into the woods—
Each time you go,
There’s more to learn
Of what you know.

Into the woods
Into the woods
Into the woods
And happy ever after.

Patricia, this is what I hope and pray your journey here at St. Catherine’s will be like: “Into the woods, then out of the woods and happy ever after.”

I say this with full recognition that all of the woods are not necessarily bad; and that to emerge from the woods is not always necessarily good; and “happy ever afters” are sometimes far between.

But let me offer a final word”
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise…think about these things.

God bless you my friend, on this new journey. And know that you have blessed each of us by your calling and by your love and friendship.

Amen

Excerpt from a sermon preached on the occasion of the Celebration of Ministry and Installation of a Vicar at St. Catherine of Alexandria/Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Nehalem OR by the Very Rev. Anthony "Bud" Thurston, former Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Portland OR and currently serving St. Barnabas Episcopal Church as Interim Rector.

Pastoral ministry as selling

by George Clifford

What makes for a great bishop, dean, rector, or vicar?

One vital part of the answer to that question is that the person must be a woman or man of God. But that, by itself, is insufficient. Not every great spirit has the call or gifts to be a great bishop, dean, rector, or vicar.

Similarly, the Church has long recognized that great bishops, deans, rectors, and vicars tend to be well educated, i.e., knowledgeable about scripture, tradition (church history), theology, and ethics. In the twentieth century, a constructive emphasis on equipping clergy with the practical skills that ministry requires (preaching, teaching, and caring) has complemented the emphasis on content.

Yet, our Church struggles. Worship attendance steadily and persistently declines (cf. my 2011 post, Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?). Increased numbers of pastoral relationships experience divisive conflict; more dioceses and more congregations seek an involuntary termination of pastoral relationships (cf. Forced clergy terminations). Clergy obviously need more than spirituality, academic preparation, and field education to become great bishops, deans, rectors, and vicars.

Leadership is the key missing component in our understanding of what makes for a great bishop, dean, rector, and vicar. Leadership, according to Dwight Eisenhower, is the art of getting others to do what you want. Unsurprisingly, reporter Daniel Pink has observed:

Spend a day with any leader in any organization, and you’ll quickly discover that the person you’re shadowing, whatever his or her official title or formal position, is actually in sales. These leaders are often pitching customers and clients, of course. But they’re also persuading employees, convincing suppliers, sweet-talking funders or cajoling a board. At the core of their exalted work is a less glamorous truth: Leaders sell. ("Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder and you probably succeed," Washington Post, January 28, 2013)

Spend a day with the bishop, dean, rector, or vicar of one our relatively few growing, thriving dioceses or congregations and you will observe a leader who is a highly effective salesperson. As Pink notes, that is not a glamorous description. But it is an accurate one. Good ordained leaders are constantly selling the organization they lead to other staff, volunteers, members, and the non-affiliated.

A good leader sells the vision, mission, and product or service of his or her organization. Church organizations variously formulate their vision of the life God intends; their mission is some permutation of transformation or, as Richard Niebuhr framed it, loving God and loving neighbor; their product or service, an admittedly awkward phrasing for Christ's Body, consists of activities designed to help people deepen their relationships with God and God's people. If an organization's leader is not an enthusiastic believer in the organization's vision, mission, and product/service, then the organization will almost certainly wither.

Focusing on all three – vision (who we are), mission (where and what God calls us to do), and product/service (how to live into our vision and mission through specific activities in the present) – is essential. Context determines which of those three a leader tries to sell in any given moment. A leader may need to sell the vision to people on the periphery and outside the organization. She/he may need to sell the mission to people considering affiliation or internal groups making program and budget decisions. He/she will constantly need to sell participants on specific opportunities to contribute or get involved.

Career coaches emphasize that a job seeker should have a prepared elevator speech, a 30 to 60 second summary of who they are, their qualifications, and the type of position they want. An elevator speech primes job seekers to seize unexpected employment chances.

Similarly, a good leader always has an elevator speech prepared, ready to sell his/her organization at every opportunity. Good clergy leaders are promoters and recruiters in chief. Selling the organization is not synonymous with gospel evangelism, something ultimately dependent upon the moving of God's spirit. Instead, good clergy sell their organization, confident that through participation people are more likely to encounter Christ, to grow spiritually, and to engage in transformational mission activities.

The best leaders are resilient and persistent salespeople. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln faced enormous personal and political challenges. The death of Willie, his eleven-year-old son, left an already depressed Lincoln bereaved and weighed heavily on his marriage. A longer, more deadly war with a series of early Union defeats hampered army recruitment and encouraged anti-war political opposition.

In spite of personal doubts and great stress, Lincoln never publicly wavered in his resolve to preserve the Union. He listened thoughtfully to his advisers, held open office hours at the White House office to hear the opinions of ordinary citizens, and visited battlefields and generals. He adapted his actions to the exigencies of events. Originally intending to restore the Union before abolishing slavery, in 1862 he recognized his plan was dead in the water and that freeing the slaves in the seceded states would enable him to achieve both objectives. Even then, he timed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to coincide with a Union victory, heeding advisors' recommendation that to do otherwise would appear to act out of exhaustion and desperation.

Abolitionists strongly applauded Lincoln's Proclamation. Jefferson Davis denounced it as another reason for the Confederacy to fight; political foes in the North decried its legality and saw it as divisive. Yet once he acted, Lincoln did not waver. (Cf. Nancy F. Koehn, "Lincoln's School of Management," New York Times, January 26, 2013)

Leading a growing, thriving diocese or congregation is hard work. Growth never occurs without conflict. The relative bloodlessness of Church fights can be deceptive, hiding the conflict's real intensity and casualties. Battle lines may be less visible. And meanwhile, the ordained leader's personal life may quite likely, like Lincoln's, add emotional turmoil and stress. The effective ecclesial leader needs a Lincoln-like resilience and persistence rooted in both genuine spirituality and mutual (with most members of the organization) commitment to Christ.

Stereotypically, people think that the best salespeople are, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, extroverts rather than introverts. Almost no research evidence supports that assessment. Adam Grant, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management, will publish his study of sales reps at a software company later this year in the journal Psychological Science. The best performers? Neither extroverts nor introverts but ambiverts, people who took their cues from the customers on when to speak and when to listen.

Ambiverts "can talk smoothly but also listen keenly, who know when to turn on the charm but also when to turn it off, who combine the extrovert’s assertiveness with the introvert’s quiet confidence." (Daniel Pink "Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder and you probably succeed," Washington Post, January 28, 2013)

To be a great bishop, dean, rector, or vicar, the Church's ordained leadership – whether serving the smallest congregation or as Presiding Bishop – must be called, gifted, and educated women and men of God. But like Lincoln, they must also be leaders who know when and how to listen, when and how to speak. They need his resilience and persistence. And, like Lincoln, they need to have a clear vision and mission that they consistently sell (not of a united nation but a Church that brings heaven to earth).


George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

A response to "Secrets your pastor can't share in a sermon"

There has been a lot of discussion around the internet of the Rev. Gary Brinn's article on Secrets Your Pastor Can't Share in a Sermon lament. Here are a few "secrets" Eric Bonetti, active lay person, would like to share with clergy [used with permission from comments on The Lead]:

1) As my priest, sometimes you're just not transparent/genuine. I get that you need to maintain appropriate boundaries, and I want you to have those boundaries. But I don't expect you to be in a good mood every day, or to not have problems at home. Nor do I expect you to conceal your real views. Believe it or not, it's okay for me to know that you're a Republican. I'm not, but that's part of what I value about you: You have different views from mine. And by the way, not everything has to be sunshine and roses. Some things in life just stink, and you can say that. If we as a parish can't deal with that, it's our problem, not yours.

2) I actually do pray for you. Sometimes, when it's been a long day at work, I'm too tired to pray for myself, my family, or friends. But it is a rare day indeed when I don't pray for you.

3) Don't be afraid to call me if you think I'm having a tough time. Sometimes, I'd welcome hearing from you, but I know you're really busy, and I'm not the sort to make more work for you if I can help it. But it doesn't mean that I don't value you or your pastoral care.

4) Believe it or not, I have your back. Yes, I have heard people complain about your sermon last Sunday, the music, or something equally silly. Sometimes, I just chuckle and roll my eyes, or I change the subject. But push come to shove, I'll always take your side as long as you do your best, even if you make a serious mistake.

5) I am not sure you get social media. You spend a lot of time talking about evangelism and outreach, but your last post on Facebook was four months ago. Young people are the future of the church, so I'd love it if you just waded in.

6) When I send you info on social justice or other events in the area, please don't think I'm trying to add things to an already crowded calendar. I'm doing it as a gesture of respect and appreciation for you.

7) You might want to consider being directly involved in more parish activities. Yeah, you are busy, but keep in mind I just spent 7 hours on Saturday setting up and tearing down for an event at church--after a very stressful 70-hour work week. So I get it if you can't make it, but if you could spare 20 minutes, I'd enjoy spending time with you, and I'd be grateful for a leg up on things.

8) I understand more than you will ever know the conflicts that come up in your job. Parish life is full of twists and turns, and sometimes I don't tell you what is on my mind simply because I don't want to put you in the middle of things.

9) Your fear of change sometimes frustrates me. Yes, I get that you have to support all members of the parish, the vestry, and the diocese. But on social justice issues, sometimes I wish you smiled less and murmured, "You may have a point," and instead said, "I have a different perspective. May I share it with you?"

10) I rejoice when you take a stand on behalf of the poor, the hungry and the oppressed. Sure, some in the parish will squirm, but isn't part of your job to be a guardian of the less fortunate?

11) Sometimes, you don't get just how expensive it can be to be part of the church. I haven't had a raise in three years, and I've had a ton of medical bills, but I've managed to increase my pledge every year. Meanwhile, between various events at the church, the money I spend on Outreach programs, those three hoagies I bought but gave to folks at work, and more, I really am tapped out. So don't pester me if I tell you I can't support a particular program or activity. I really can't.

12) I worry that you don't know how much I appreciate you. Believe it or not, although I see you several times a week, it can be hard to find ways to tell you that.

13) Speaking of the hurtful comment that person made to you on the way out the door, what you didn't know is that I called that person on it. I was polite, fair, and gentle, but looks like I've really ticked that person off. Oh well.

Eric Bonetti lives in Northern Virginia. He is executive director of a small non-profit that provides affordable housing to persons in need and is a member of Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, VA. He is a frequent commenter on Episcopal Café.

Taking Care of Clergy in the Storm

by The Rev. Scott Petersen

The Episcopal Church, along with all denominations are experiencing a multifaceted storm. There are two swirling cells of energy that have been butting up against each other. The first cell is God’s call to be faithful. The church is faced with a profound call to share the Gospel in new ways that will reach a people unaware of the beauty and power of Christ. The second cell is a decline in our institutional capacity. The church is a body of people formed into faith through structures and expectations that may no longer be sustainable.

Into those colliding cells enter the clergy. In many places the call of the church of the future is slamming into the church of the past. A systemic conflict is hiding amongst what looks to be situational difficulties. Some churches will ignore the call of the future. Some churches will navigate the vortex created by the two successfully. Some will not. As one would imagine, some clergy have been and will continue to be chewed up in these forces.

As the Episcopal Church enters further into a time when what clergy need to do to help develop thriving parishes, runs up against what has always been done in parishes resistant to change, it can be the clergy who are pushed out into the storm. While we may not be able to predict where individual clergy will get caught in this systemic difficulty, we can take steps to care for clergy who experience it. The call of this article is for the church to begin to recognize this systemic difficulty and to prepare for it by finding ways to support clergy caught in this crossfire.

There is evidence for this ongoing storm. The March (2012) issue of The Review of Religious Research shared some disturbing statistics. In an ecumenical study of clergy it was found that 28% of all clergy will experience a “forced resignation” some time in their career. In the Huffington Post David Briggs article, Silent Clergy Killers, Briggs writes about that 28%. He writes of those clergy,

“(as having) been forced to leave their jobs due to personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of their congregations. The researchers from Texas Tech University and Virginia Tech University also found that the clergy who had been forced out were more likely to report lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression, stress and physical health problems.”

Anecdotally most clergy can tell a story of a colleague who has faced such a hardship. Briggs article goes on to reveal an equally difficult statistic. Of that 28% who experience a forced resignation, 4 out of 10 of that group will leave the ministry outright. “Want to know what that means in real numbers? Dr. Charles Chandler, head of Ministering to Ministers (http://www.mtmfoundation.org/) in Richmond, Va., asked Briggs. “It means across denominations 19,000 clergy a year will experience a ‘forced resignation.’” If four out of 10 are leaving active ministry as a result of such an experience that means approximately 7,600 clergy a year will abandon what was a living, beating call to serve the church. That is a huge number. In the most recent Ministering to Minister’s retreat, Dr. Chandler reported 5 of the 12 clergy in attendance were Episcopal clergy. Our denomination is not the only one being affected by this but, we are being affected. When difficulty cannot be resolved in the parish, the easiest solution is that the clergy person goes. In speaking with a bishop about this issue he said regretfully, “Clergy in this situation are expendable.”

It may be the parish is to blame, the clergy is to blame, the diocese to blame or most likely, some combination that involve all of the above. Blame, while convenient, does not heal. Whatever the reason for the separation, the separation causes pain across the board. As both bishop and parish are rooted in geography, the current structures of systemic support tend to favor recovery for the parish. While this author advocates support for parishes so they too might grow and heal out of these murky and difficult situations, the focus of this article is on getting clergy the help they need.

Episcopalians already invest an incredible amount of time, money, and discernment in the formation of our clergy. It seems a huge waste of time, talent, and treasure to see clergy, following their investment in formation, so beat up coming out of a “bad fit” that they leave the ministry convinced they have failed. Instead of blaming and potentially stigmatizing clergy for these systemic issues, we need to recognize we are in a storm and begin to offer resources to those affected clergy and their families. Instead of losing these priests we should be thinking how these men and women may be gaining an incredible formation experience. Help them recover and you gain a seasoned resource.

Recognizing that the systemic problem exists is a start, but only a start. Priests coming out of such situations want to do ministry yet often have to recover before anyone will be interested in them for future ministry. They want to know they are not pariahs. They need help in finding a way forward. CREDO, which provides a holistic approach to the health and wellness of Episcopal clergy in an eight-day retreat-based program, may have already laid the foundation on how we might go forward to address this need. For some time now CREDO has been involved in situational issues and tasked with helping priests recover from traumatic situations.

In 2005, Katrina hit the gulf coast. In response to the devastation and the long-term difficulty that clergy and lay leaders were faced with trying to help their communities recover, CREDO responded by offering “Weathering the Storm.” In 2010 after the earthquake crippled Haiti, CREDO shared “Strength for the Journey” to the leadership seeking to recover and live out of the national disaster there. Each program was designed to gather individuals together to remind them of their call, help them recover and find light in the midst of a difficult and challenging time. Hoping to bring the same type of recovery to the Dioceses living out of schism, The Presiding Bishop charged CREDO to prepare and then offer “Strength for the Journey” to the leadership in the re-organized Diocese’s of Pittsburg, San Joaquin, Fort Worth, and Quincy. CREDO in this capacity is not a fix. It is a resource that lifts, supports, and re-orients.

If we are called to lift, support, re-orient individuals who come to our churches, should we not do the same for our clergy? In each of the preceding situations CREDO was able to address a situation not experienced by the entire church, but offer resources and aid to clergy coming through such challenges. Could not this same CREDO model be provided for clergy coming out of difficult calls?

We do have a biblical model for leadership emerging out of failure. Some would argue that Peter’s ministry did not begin when Christ called him on the shores of Galilee, but that Peter’s ministry really began following the resurrection. They argue that Peter’s ministry began when Christ came to Peter after his three-fold denial. Peter in turn was tried through challenge, failure, and then, in response to acceptance rather than condemnation, found his true call as a result of it. Failure, when viewed in this way, is not an end, but an essential piece of formation.

In a time where the winds of change might result in an increase of “forced resignations” before we see a decrease, wouldn’t it be wise leadership to care for our wounded along the way? We may not know where or when the storm will touch down again but we do know it will. It seems prudent to be prepared for it when it does.

By de-stigmatizing failure and recognizing that systematic challenges lie ahead, CREDO may, if charged to the task, be poised to offer the following to clergy caught up in this crossfire: a respite period with others in order for the individual or family to discover that he or she is not alone; trained facilitators who have grown out of such circumstances; tools in order to recover; a safe environment to learn from challenging circumstances; the opportunity to begin building support networks; and guidance and mentoring toward how he or she might re-integrate back into ministry. This ministry does not yet exist formally, yet. The needed groundwork, however, is there.

If clergy are supposed to be wounded healers, as popularized by Henri Nowen, then shouldn’t we strive to help our clergy walk through it when they are? We should not shoot our wounded by leaving clergy adrift following what can be very complex circumstances. As Jesus lovingly looked at Peter following Peter’s failure on Good Friday, and encouraged Peter to feed His sheep, I urge that we, as Christ’s body in the world take some concrete systemic steps to do the same.

This article is the outcome of numerous conversations with leaders around the church in the last five months As I grow in ministry to hurting clergy I would welcome conversation from any priest who has experienced or is currently experiencing some of the situations described in the article.

The Rev. Scott Petersen graduated VTS in '07 and served in the Diocese of SE Florida. He currently serves in the Diocese of Western North Carolina. To contact him about this article email at revpetersn@gmail.com

Do churches exist to support clergy?

by George Clifford

Is supporting their clergy the raison d’être for congregations to exist?

In 2010, half of the 6,794 congregations in The Episcopal Church (TEC) had an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 65 or fewer people; 58% of TEC congregations had fewer than 200 active, baptized members and only 15% have more than 500 active, baptized members. Nevertheless, TEC congregations generally want to have the services of a full-time, paid clergyperson.

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click to enlarge (C. Kirk Hadaway, “Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2008 Faith Communities Today Survey,” March 2009, available at here)

Having served small (ASA under 20) and large (ASA over 500) congregations, I find it impossible to imagine that small congregations (e.g., those with an ASA under 150 or fewer than 350 active baptized members) require the services of a full-time paid cleric.

The smallest congregation that I have served was a Royal Navy (RN) Church in London, England. Ministering to my active parishioners left me ample time to minister to the spiritual needs of my 2000 plus military parishioners and their families not active in the Church, to manage some local RN social service programs, and to design, obtain funding for, and oversee construction of, a new multi-purpose facility (church, pub, and theater). That experience confirmed the jaundiced suspicion with which I have long viewed the need for small congregations to have full-time paid clergy.

The bald truth is that small congregations spend a hugely disproportionate, even scandalous, percentage of their resources, especially financial resources, on clergy compensation. If the cleric receives a not very generous annual stipend of $50,000, healthcare insurance costing $12,000 and payments into the pension fund of $11,160, then the cleric’s total package costs the congregation $73,160. That represents 25 donors, each giving $2926 per year, or 50 donors, each giving $1463. To put those numbers in context, the average pledge in TEC today is approximately $1500. Thus, the 12% of congregations with an ASA of 25 or less who have full-time paid clergy either have exceptionally generous contributors or pay their bills from an endowment.

The Church does not exist to provide full-time employment for the clergy. The Church’s mission, broadly conceived by H. Richard Niebuhr, is the increase of the love of God and neighbor. As the author of I Timothy remarked, clergy, like all laborers, are rightly paid for their labor. However, clergy, like any laborer, should not expect full-time compensation for performing what are actually part-time duties.

Congregations and clergy share responsibility for this ugly form of clericalism. Few priests (or bishops or seminary faculty members!) question the prevailing ministry model with its strong presumption of at least one full-time paid cleric for every congregation. Their silence makes them complicit in sustaining a model that diverts resources from bringing new life to maintenance of the dying.

Similarly, few congregants vigorously, persistently, and effectively question congregational decision makers (bishop, clergy, vestry, bishop’s committee, wardens) whether the grossly skewed expenditure of funds on clergy compensation reflects the most prudential use of monies received as offerings to God. Our culture has a strongly normative belief that having a full-time, paid cleric on staff and owning a building are minimum essential hallmarks for a Christian congregation. In other words, this is not a problem unique to TEC>

Yet half of all Americans have incomes near or below the poverty level. Hunger in America is on the increase. And the plight of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world makes most of the poor in the U.S. seem wealthy. The percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christians has declined from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2009; during that same period, the percentage who identify as “no religious preference” has doubled. Is clergy compensation the best, the most prudential use of the gifts that God's people give?

If the Church does not exist to support the clergy, what can we do?

First, TEC and its clergy can establish a fuller, healthier mutual accountability for clergy and congregations. A relative handful of clergy who serve small congregations devote much of their time to managing mission endeavors the congregation sponsors. A smaller handful spend their time effectively growing the congregation (It’s true! TEC does have some small congregations that are growing numerically). Most underemployed clergy, however, lack the opportunity or skills for either of the foregoing. They, or perhaps their successor, should become bi-vocational, serve multiple congregations, or combine part-time in the small congregation with another part-time clergy position (e.g., chaplaincy, staff for an ecumenical group, diocesan staff, or assisting in a larger congregation). Regular and rigorously honest mutual ministry reviews that discuss how the clergy use their time represent an excellent opportunity to move toward institutionalizing a fuller, healthier accountability.

Second, TEC needs to make seminary education more affordable, so that graduates leave without debt. Consolidating our eleven seminaries is one possibility for achieving this (cf. A word on our seminaries: Consolidate!). Well-intentioned initiatives to provide clergy for small congregations that lower educational requirements risk creating an under-qualified, ill-equipped, second-rate set of clergy for small congregations. Leading a small congregation requires considerable expertise and as comprehensive a skill set as needed to lead a very large congregation. God's people deserve the best. TEC has no shortage of people who hear a call to ordination. Making seminary affordable represents a significant step toward solving TEC’s problem of a mal-distributed clergy, i.e., too many clergy need full-time salaries that too few congregations can, or should, pay.

Third, we can change our thinking about Church. The older form of clericalism identified ministry as the work of the clergy, isolated them on pedestals, and invested them with the responsibility of managing the Church (i.e., made them holy authority figures) is thankfully dying, a casualty of healthy changes in the last 50 years. The new form of clericalism tacitly presumes that the Church exists for the clergy, providing them full-time compensation in exchange for being a person of faith, saying the prayers others are too busy or too doubtful to say, and maintaining the Church. Sometimes the cleric literally maintains the building, arriving early to adjust the thermostat and to make coffee, and then leaving late, taking out the trash, and locking the doors after the last person has left. More often, the cleric is the lynchpin for ensuring the congregation’s organizational functionality.

Neither model of clericalism is faithful to the mutual ministry of all God's people. The four orders of ministry identify functional and not spiritual distinctions. Clergy bring certain gifts and authority to their ministry within a congregation, but those gifts and that authority (e.g., preaching and consecrating sacraments) are no better than the gifts and authority that lay people bring; indeed, without the gifts and authority of the laity, the Church reverts to the worst of the old form of clericalism.

If The Episcopal Church is to once again thrive as a vibrant, fully alive branch of the larger Church, then TEC congregations must cease existing to support their clergy and instead discover new patterns of mutual ministry to reach a world that is literally and spiritually hungry. The clergy’s raison d’être is to support the Church, not the other way around.


George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings.

Is the clergy deployment system broken?

by Donald J. Muller

I want to suggest that one of the reasons for the decline and continued decline of our Episcopal Church is a broken clergy deployment system. I think our church needs to examine this system. I want to pose this because I don’t hear anything about it in the discussions around the decline in membership of the Episcopal Church. Let me name some of the issues that I see:

The prohibition of an incumbent rector/vicar being involved in the profile and/or search process;
The lengthy interim periods between rectors;

The necessity of calling an interim priest/rector and the things they do;

No one to advise the clergy who are in the calling process;

The lack of clarity in the transfer of pastoral care and leadership to the new rector


I have been a priest for 29 years, a curate for two of those, and rector of four churches for the remaining years. I believe that no one knows a parish better than the current rector (if they have been there for at least three years - maybe five). The bishop may have been in that parish once or less a year, and rarely has a Diocesan staff person been on site. Parochial reports which tell some of the story of a congregation and almost never examined in detail. The Vestry members rotate on and off. I am now serving my fourth parish as Rector over the 29 years of my ordained ministry. Each of the parishes I‘ve served has had an interim period between my predecessor and myself of 18 months to over two years. Twice I’ve followed long term Rectors who have retired and twice I’ve followed priests who have gone on to other parishes. The interim period between them seems to be no different. In all four cases, my predecessor had absolutely nothing to do with the transition. Yet, those four priests knew the parishes better than anyone in the Diocesan office, or even in the parish itself. None of the Vestry members currently serving were in that position when I was called five and a half years ago. I am now the one who knows this parish best, my knowledge should at least be used in the process of putting a profile of the parish together.

Over the course of my ministry I had observed first hand and second hand the lengthy interim periods between Rectors. In some cases the long time between rectors was intentional by the Diocesan Office because of the long tenure of the previous rector. At other times the process just takes too long. I think this is a detriment to the forward movement in ministry for the congregation and for their overall self worth. Sunday worship attendance shrinks and doesn’t seem to recover. I know from my work in evangelism that when people start disappearing on Sundays mornings unless they are recovered very quickly they drift away and do not come back. I’ve heard that the length of the interim is proportional to the time the last rector was in place, that congregations need to grieve the death of that pastoral relationship. My experience as a pastor, over 29 years, tells me that the grief process has no certain time line. It matters not whether a person dies suddenly or over a long period of time - each individual family member grieves in their own time and in their own way. This is true in congregations, as well. If a congregation is healthy why not get a new rector/vicar in place as soon as possible so that the ministry trajectory remains forward? There will be parishioners who will leave because the new rector is not the old one. There will be those who leave because they were very attached to the old one. But most are more likely to stay around and see what the new priest will be like, if the time period is short.

I understand that there are various understandings about what interim priests do (rectors - I don’t like that term, because interims do not have the Canonical authority of Instituted Rectors). Some believe they should expose the congregation to the great breadth of the Episcopal tradition that they are not now experiencing. Some believe they should continue the ways things have been going and give most of their attention to pastoral care. There are interims who delve into every system that exists in the church to expose its faults and fix them; to remove persons in charge of ministries; to challenge the way “things have always been done.” My experience has shown me that real change happens with people we trust. A quick fix on the surface might be accomplished, but not a lasting deep down kind of change. Why not have Sunday supply priests who might also be on call for pastoral care or give one or two days a week for that purpose? The congregation then doesn’t invest in that priest.

Most Dioceses are very good at giving the vacant congregation advice in the calling process. Some have consultants, either paid for by the Diocese or the congregation, that give advice throughout the process. The consultants have extensive knowledge about the calling process and the particular process of that Diocese. Unfortunately, they don’t know the parish except as presented by the parishioners they interact with, and they don’t know the clergy who will be seeking a call. The clergy seeking another call have no one to advise them or care for them in the process. They are not experts in the process themselves. Perhaps they have been to CREDO and have had their CDO and resume shaped with expertise there, or the Diocesan Deployment Officer of their Diocese has helped them. But in the process itself, no one talks to them about the process; no one asks how they are doing; no one tells them anything until they get a letter saying they are out of the process or continuing, or that they have been called. This is frustrating for clergy, can lead to self doubt, loss of self worth, etc. It is also very hard for clergy to participate in a search process while still investing themselves fully in their present position and yet trying to be responsive to the parish that they are interested in or that is interested in them.

When a new Rector is called, the official investing of them with the powers and authority of the office of Rector (Institution) generally doesn’t happen for several weeks or even months. Some Dioceses don’t even schedule it until a priest has been in place quite a while because of such bad experiences in the calling of new rectors. The interim priest was there the week before and now there is a new priest. But other than the introducing of the new rector to the congregation by the warden or vestry member there is nothing official shown to the congregation. Almost twenty years ago I was asked to serve as the chaplain at a “Change of Command” of a Coast Guard based in Beach Haven, NJ. It was an interesting experience watching one Commanding Officer hand over all authority to another with the entire base bearing witness to the change. Would it make sense for us to have the incumbent hand over the keys (or the other symbols of the office) to the new Rector in person? It would make it very clear who the new Rector was. Would it make sense for the Institution (Celebration of New Ministry) to be the first worship the new Rector was at with the Bishop, Archdeacon, Dean, etc. presiding and preaching? It almost seems an afterthought for it to happen months down the road.

Perhaps it time to have some evaluation of how we do things now, to examine congregations from two years before a vacancy through two years after the call of the new priest. I wonder what we would find in terms of congregational strength and vitality, Average Sunday Attendance, financial health, etc.

The Rev. Canon Donald J. Muller, D. Min

A theology of summer

By Greg Syler

“Are you getting any response to this program?” our parish administrator asked me the other day, referring to an offer we’ve been advertising in the weekly bulletin for weeks. I hadn’t heard a peep. At the same time, I realized, my email inbox is clogged, messages are waiting to be returned, and there are messages for which I’m awaiting a return. The to-do list is long, and calls have been made, and committee meetings have been arranged weeks in advance. But all in all not much is going on. That’s when it hit me: It’s summer.

You would think the blinding heat, or deliciously ripe local produce, or the absence of our Sunday regulars – and their pew replacement, the summer renters – would have tipped me off to the awareness of this seasonal shift earlier than mid-July. Or my own recent trips away to see family and friends or the fact that I’ve already given up the black wool trousers for a light cotton suit should have turned me on to the fact that we’re in a different season. It is summer, and we’re having lemonade on the lawn, not coffee hour inside; still others are out on the water, and at cookouts, and living pretty much in their sailboats or swimming pools. It is summer.

It’s been said that one of the principles of church growth is to not slow down programming during the summer, so as to teach people not to give up church during these glorious months of play. We all know churches who do different things in the summer months – change service times, combine services, suspend Sunday School, or in some cases cease corporate Sunday worship altogether. Whether those ideas are good or bad is, for me, up to someone else and, at the very least, up to that local congregation.

I’m just not sure that people are coming to our churches for our great and notable programs. At the same time I realized that my email inbox was full and that our parish administrator was not hearing a peep from anyone about our next great idea, I remembered how my Senior Warden has been urging me to get on his boat and go fishing, and that another family has invited my daughter and me untold times for dinner and swimming in their pool, and that I still haven’t gone kayaking with that other couple.

I remembered all the times in, say, November or February when so-and-so would ask me to go out to brunch following coffee hour or when I was invited to that family reunion and I wondered why I had turned down so many offers of genuine kindness. True, the job of a parish priest is sometimes ill-defined and the life is altogether busy and demanding – certainly so in the months of the so-called “program year”. But the idea of the Anglican priesthood, at least as I’ve come to understand it, centers on a robust theology of the Incarnation: the parish priest must be accessible, fully human, engaged, yes, embedded in a local community so as to mediate (not represent) Christ, who chose to live among us and, indeed, as one of us.

I’ve been having a wonderful exercise of my life and vocation this summer. I’ve gone swimming, sat on the edges of piers and drank wine, kayaked up an idyllic marsh-land creek to see a heron rookery, gone fishing, sat at dining room tables and on porches, headed over to the local restaurant to celebrate a birthday, and went to brunch at the local marina. All of this, of course, could be called work, but it’s so much more than that cheapened term – it’s a vocation, a lifestyle, an exercise of who we all are called to be. There will be plenty of paperwork and email ahead, and that time will come sooner than even I realize. In all of our lives, whether your vocation is a priest or an educator or a military contractor or a parent, there will be seasons of demands and production. And there will also be times of letting go, of enjoyment and delight. “To everything there is a season,” the wisdom of the scripture teaches.

It’s also more than a seasonal shift, much more. As often as I have expected and, unwittingly, demanded that people show up more regularly to the place where I live and work, I’ve had the opportunity to see the places where they, too, find joy and make meaning in their lives – their kitchens and boats, their decks and piers, their garages and favorite restaurants. We get some awful tunnel vision in the parish, and fret about average Sunday attendance and how many students are enrolled in Sunday School. It’s been healthy, for me, to walk out of the office and leave behind the familiar and comfortable rhythms of the sacristy and chancel. There is a great wealth of meaning beyond the walls we’ve constructed; God’s grandeur is robust in all of His creation.

Even Jesus seemed to recognize the need for this balance. It’s probably true that we most often think of Jesus as being out and about, a nomadic Rabbi who reminded his followers that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Mt.8:20). In recent weeks, the lectionary has led us through Matthew’s thirteenth chapter – the parable chapter – in which Jesus’ notoriety has become so great he has to go and stand on a boat in order for the crowd to amass on the beach and hear him. But Jesus also knew when to step back and recharge. Not as strikingly clear in Matthew 13, we see Jesus going in and out of “the house”(vv.1,36), presumably the place where only he and his select few gathered. Luke, in his gospel, teaches us that Jesus punctuated certain periods of his life and ministry by intentionally going away by himself to pray. Even as popular and public a figure as Jesus still understood the need for balance between programming and solitude, between time spent with the throngs and meaning gained by being with the inner circle.

It does seem to come down to balance. Congregations who are uncertain about their future will sometimes pit one good against another good, say, make outreach ministries the enemy of parish fellowship. Does charity begin at home, as some might argue? Or is there no such thing as charity without social justice? This is a false argument, of course, and it will get a Christian community nowhere but one whopping fight. Instead, balance. If we have stayed in “the house” too long, get out and meet the people where they are. God is there, too. God himself did precisely that, and we name that mystery Incarnation. If we are out of “the house” too often, get back and re-center. Our Creator did that, as well, and we celebrate that and call it Sabbath.

Greg Syler is the rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland.

Making it hard for young people to explore a priestly vocation

By Martin L. Smith

On July 4th I celebrated the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I have a slight claim to regard this as special, because I was ordained under the minimum age laid down in canon law. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued special licenses as I was still 22 when I became a deacon and still in my 23rd year-just-when I was ordained priest. So while I can't be certain that I wasn't beaten to the record somewhere by a few days, there is probably no Anglican of my age ordained longer. I was theologically precocious, and though I did have five intense years of theological education behind me, I certainly looked younger than many members of my parish youth club. On my house visits for funeral and baptism planning, I would have to work to get past the initial reaction of utter incredulity which my appearance often excited. I'm still pondering the significance of being ordained so young.

Back then, we were taught that priests were primarily trained by lay people in parishes-seminary was just groundwork. And we made ourselves living proof of that philosophy. We were ordained as pastoral apprentices, not experts or professionals, and ordained ministry was geared to maximize personal pastoral encounters from which we would learn and grow in the field.

On a ferry crossing from England to Holland I had one of those rare prayer experiences when we hear a distinct voice, a clear word from God. I heard these words clearly and simply: "priesthood is people." This was completely consistent with our culture of spiritual apprenticeship. This culture required maturity and responsibility from lay people to trust the young newly ordained and put them through their pastoral paces. In exchange, people benefited from the vigor, energy and imagination of young pastors. I look back with amazement at the gusto and inventiveness with which my friends and I threw ourselves into parish life in our early and mid 20s.

It's hardly any wonder that I came to feel so many misgivings about very different attitudes that took over in the Episcopal Church in the decades that followed, which caused the average age of the newly ordained to climb well into middle age. There was a phase when men and women in their 20s seemed to be discounted as proper candidates for ordination. Whether people seriously believed the blanket theories about the 'need for life experience,' or whether it was just a cover for ushering into the process a majority of middle aged people, I am not sure. I am certain that these attitudes thwarted the Spirit of God in hundreds of stillborn vocations.

Now, I have been in the business of nurturing and mentoring candidates for ministry for decades, and I know perfectly well that "the Spirit blows where it wants." I have rejoiced in the work of discernment and preparation with dozens and dozens of people in the second half of life. But I didn't rejoice at all in the policies that resulted in a cumulative graying of the clergy. And I believe I have earned my right to be skeptical about the design of most of those bureaucratic contraptions called "our ordination process," whose successive models seem to need constant tinkering, only to replaced altogether as yet another ecclesiastical lemon. In many cases they have proved to be grim deterrents to young people exploring a call to the priesthood.

Forty years on, and I am convinced that the church needs to be much less passive about exciting young women and men with the possibility that God wants to recruit the energy and gifts they have precisely as young people, to re-invigorate the ordained ministry from within. We have superb potential leaders among our college age men and women-and younger! I was actively cultivated in my teens as a potential priest, and my discernment was taken really seriously. Are we singling out young people of every cultural and class background as potential priests? Are we willing to forge very flexible instruments of discernment and preparation that can train them in time to devote energetic and creative years to reshaping the life of our parishes? How will we create the "apprenticeship" situations for the young newly ordained that will stretch and deepen them and give opportunity for their creativity? With financial constraints thinning out assistants' positions, how will we make it a priority to incorporate young women and men into the pastoral life in ways which are healthy and inviting for them and their families?


Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiri- tual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba's, D.C.

What will I become? A decade with God’s call

By Adam Thomas

John Lennon popularized the saying that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. For followers of Jesus Christ, this isn’t entirely accurate. You see: God usually has plans for us that are fairly different from the ones that we have for ourselves. Our joy as followers of Christ happens when we listen for and then respond to God’s call in our lives. And so, to modify Lennon’s quotation: life is what happens to you when you’re busy allowing your plans to resonate with God’s.

Here’s a snapshot of three times over the last decade of my life that shows my movement from my plans to God’s, a movement that I assure you continues today. (And please, don’t misunderstand – just because God’s plan for me has so far been to become a priest, know that God’s call manifests in myriad other ways, as well.)

January 11, 2001
It is ten years ago, and I am really starting to think long and hard about what my life might look like as an adult. My senior year of high school is half over, and my college applications are finished. The days are approaching when I will hourly test the mailbox’s hinges hoping for a fat letter from Sewanee, my first choice college. The days are long gone when I dreamt of being a part-time firefighter and a part-time paleontologist. With my college letters soon to arrive at my house, it is high time to think about the future, the real future apart from the shiny red engines and dinosaurs’ fossils of childhood. And so, right before I turn eighteen, I type a few paragraphs entitled “What Will I Become?”

I believe that when a student enters his or her freshman year of college, he or she should be open to a vast array of new experiences. From my perspective, having my life planned the minute I graduate from high school is unhealthy. I am not saying that a student should not narrow his or her interests at all, but having a rigid path to walk can become detrimental.

As I prepare for my college education I have envisioned no less than four scenarios, one of which has only begun to fester in my brain. I know I would like to continue writing as I grow older, but I am practical and also know that very few writers succeed. Nevertheless, my first scenario is to major in English and hopefully have something published while I am still attending college. The second is to major in journalism and become a reporter; I would love to work for ESPN, but that is more of a dream than a reality. The third scenario is to go pre-law and attend law school. I have always been interested in the judicial process, but I am not sure I want to be a lawyer.

The fourth scenario, the one that is starting to fester in brain, is to double major in English and political science, and then perhaps still go to law school. I do not think I want to be a politician, but I would consider being someone linked to one. I am in the fledgling stages of an AP United States government class, and it absolutely fascinates me. This last scenario is beginning to excite me because it connects the other three. If I became a speechwriter or press secretary then I would have to use skills from all of my other loves. I would need the communication skills of a journalist, the writing skills of an English major, and the thought processes of a lawyer. […] I have narrowed my mindset some, but I will use the next few years to truly decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.

December 28, 2004
The acceptance letter comes and I pack up for Sewanee. Four years later, I am nearly done with the double major, though music composition has replaced English as one of the pair. Halfway through another senior year, I write again about what I will become, this time in response to an essay question on the application for Virginia Theological Seminary.

At the beginning of the second semester of my senior year of high school, I sat down at my computer and wrote out a list of possible career paths in an attempt to bring some focus to the new world that would soon open up to me. I called the list “What Will I Become?” and it included writer, journalist, lawyer, and speechwriter. With this exercise, I was trying to persuade myself that it was perfectly acceptable not to have my future planned out before I went to college. The piece concluded with this sentence, “I have narrowed my mindset some, but I will use the next few years to truly decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.” A year later, my entire perspective changed.

I was taking a humanities class the second semester of my freshman year at Sewanee, and we read the Confessions of Saint Augustine. I was truly struck by Augustine’s attempt to look back over his whole life and search for God’s movement in it; indeed, the text is one long introspective prayer. Heartened by Augustine’s example, I tentatively began to look inside myself. Over the course of the semester, “what do I want to do with the rest of my life” became “what does God want me to do with the rest of my life.” With this new paradigm, my heart and mind became open to new possibilities—or to what I thought were new possibilities. Upon further reflection, I have discovered that this new and exciting avenue, becoming a priest, is actually the earliest path open to me that I had ignored for years.

You see, my father graduated from seminary when I was six years old, and I grew up in the church. I was never the stereotypical rebellious priest’s kid; on the contrary, I always went to services, but for the first seventeen years of my life, the Word and the liturgy failed to move me. I went to church, I was baptized, I was confirmed. I believed in God through the borrowed faith of my parents. But my own faith was still nascent. The church has caused my family intense pain and overwhelming joy, and throughout my early teenage years I was always on guard in church because the painful times were ever so much more vivid in my mind. I would not allow myself to be hurt again, would not allow myself to become vulnerable; therefore, I would not allow myself to love. People would jokingly ask me if I was “going to follow in my father’s footsteps.” Heck no, I always thought, I know what he has to put up with. The pain that kept my faith locked away also kept me from seeing my true calling.

However, on a Sunday morning in October of 2000, something miraculous happened, something that I have been trying to put into words ever since. But mere words are inadequate when the power of the Living God becomes involved. To put it the best I can, I had a moment with God, in which I felt connected to both the enormity of God’s movement in the world and the intimacy of an intense feeling of personal love…. A little over a year later, with Saint Augustine’s example newly in my mind and this transforming experience of God’s love still reforming my heart, I discerned that I was called to the path that has always been only one step away.

December 3, 2007
Another acceptance letter comes, and I attend seminary. Three years later, during my final senior year, I write again about what I will become, this time within a fortnight of the event when “What will I be” will turn into the “What I am.”

A few weeks ago, I decided to try on the outfit I am planning to wear to my ordination. I unzipped the suit bag and laid out the trousers and jacket. I put on my brand new (quite stiff, still) clergy shirt and collar. Then I added the suit, shoes, and belt. As I approached the mirror, I hesitated. I wasn’t sure who I would see looking back at me. A hand, then an arm, then my body appeared in the reflection. I looked me up and down. I folded my hands. I tried to raise one eyebrow and failed. I unbuttoned the jacket and stuck my hands in my pockets. I smiled. There I am, I thought.

As I approached the mirror, I was afraid that I would not see the me I have always been because I was decked out in the attire of the me I am becoming. But as I assumed a stance, a gesture, a facial expression that are uniquely mine, I realized that the mere trappings of the calling to which I have responded will not override the me that continues to respond to the call. When God called me to the ordained life, God called me. God called a person with both gifts and limitations, both experience and baggage. As I looked at my reflection, I did not see a necessarily better me, but the me that shows outwardly my striving to accept God’s call.

As I thought that, I felt my gut twinge with the same feeling I used to have when a fly ball was hit to me in center field. Go and catch it, my gut used to say. Now it says, Look at the way God has moved in your life. Now what are you going to do about it? In many of the places in the bible where our new translations use the word “heart,” the text really says “gut.” In my gut, I know I am called to serve God because I get that same feeling when I contemplate my future. In my gut, I sense the utter enormity of the One I am called to serve. In that deep place, at the very core of my being, I know that the me I am and the me I am becoming are both the me that God has called. Indeed, God’s call created the me I am.

Today
Three more years, the first three of my ordained life come and go. I sit at my computer reading the words I wrote over the past ten years, and I hear echoes of the person I used to be, echoes that somehow became solid, sunk down into my soul, and now fortify the call that God continues to breathe into my life. Another decade spans out ahead of me: marriage in less than two months, a parish in which to serve God, a PhD, followed, perhaps, by a post helping students learn the art of preaching. Some of these surely are part of God’s plan for me, but, even so, I must not allow my plans to become idols that pull me away from God. I must continue to listen and strive to resonate with God’s call. And I must keep myself open to all of God’s glorious possibilities by wondering: what will I become tomorrow?

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the assistant to the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Mass. He blogs at wherethewind.com. He is the author of the upcoming book Digital Disciple, out this May from Abingdon Press.

Second thoughts about forgiveness

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Ann Fontaine

What purpose can “not forgiving” serve?

Forgiveness is a highly recommended spiritual practice. The benefits of forgiveness are supposedly less stress and better health. Forgiveness is recommended by the church as a way to wholeness.

I wonder, however, if this is always a good idea. In cases of sexual and physical abuse, I believe offering quick forgiveness can continue the wounding rather than offering healing. It encourages people to “be nice” rather than find the wholeness of accepting the depth of one’s rage. When might it be good not to forgive?

I was reading the Daily Office the other day and this line stood out for me:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22

The passage made wonder about the process of forgiveness. This verse says to me that forgiveness does not always help the process of healing or result in restoration and reconciliation. It says something has to happen before sins are forgiven and relationship returned.

Two stories:

1. A man was sexually abused as a child by his priest, with the tacit consent of his mother. Once he was grown enough to resist and speak out they had him committed to an institution for incorrigible teens. He could never get the church to act against the abuser. He was shuffled off from one office to another. The canons of the church designed to prevent this were not in place. By the time they were – the bishop said the statute of limitations had run out. Forgiveness for him would have been the last straw – one that took away his dignity and the rage that kept him alive to battle a cold uncaring institution and help to change things bit by bit.

2. A priest was often observed crossing boundaries with women – touching them in ways that made them uncomfortable. Some said, “Oh he is just friendly and does not mean anything by it.” For many who were the victims of his touching, it evoked memories of rape and powerlessness. One day he was hit by a car and broke both arms. Some victims felt their wounds had been assuaged and they were able to forgive.

In each of these cases there was an offense or offenses. People dealt with the issues of forgiveness in the ways each felt was best for them.

The church’s demand to forgive can make victims feel guilty and blame themselves for what happened to them. Persons unable to offer forgiveness feel shut out and re-victimized.

I believe we should be offering wholeness that comes from acknowledging the wounding and sitting with that woundedness for as long as it takes for the victim to come to the right place. Instead of demanding instant forgiveness of a perpetrator by a victim, offer to listen and find ways to make amends for what has happened. Help the victim become a survivor by discovering what he or she desires for his or her own life.

Listening shows the person that he or she has a right to be heard. I believe no movement to wholeness can occur until the story is told from the point of view of the victim and the victim receives assurance that it was terrible and should not have happened no matter what else was going on. Acceptance of the event and the knowledge that no amount of revisiting it will change the terrible nature of what happened is the first step to choosing the future one desires. It may or may not involve forgiveness but gives power back to the one who has suffered.

A reflection on the reading from the book of Hebrews

withholding forgiveness from those who have offended may be a time of waiting to see the blood

What sort of blood is needed?

As our daughter, a wise woman, says:

The most important thing I've learned about forgiveness is that it can't be forced. It must flow naturally from where the victim is in their healing process and frequently marks the point at which one has decided not to let the event be a distorting effect on one's life. Justice is a part of forgiveness. If someone did something wrong that was under their control and they show no remorse, then it is very difficult to forgive. If remorse is shown (not just said)-- or one feels that 'fate' has provided justice (as in the broken armed abuser story)-- then it is easier to let go of the protective anger and move on. Anger can a protective shield-- perhaps it is like a cold-frame for seedlings -- protecting a vulnerable person until they are strong enough to live on their own, but confining if left in place too long.

Withholding forgiveness may be a way to retain one’s power in a situation of powerlessness. I believe it can be a first step to regaining a sense of self that has been destroyed by abuse and exploitation.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Tending the diaconal garden

By Marshall Scott

I’ve been taking some vacation. Well, at least I haven’t been going into the hospital. I haven’t been off doing anything dramatic or exciting. Being relatively new in her current position, my wife has less vacation time than I do, so I’ve been taking some days away while she still has to work. I’m not really good at vacating, and so, having not gone out of town, I’ve found myself as busy as if I’d gone to the office, if not more.

So, I’ve been spending my time at the parish garden - putting up rabbit fence, breaking sod. We’ve expanded this year by 50%. That has meant more fencing and new ground to break. A parishioner donated portable fencing, movable panels, more than enough for the expanded garden. However, it was designed to keep horses. It’s good for keeping the deer out, but not much good against anything smaller. So, I had to cut and fit lengths of garden fence, bent out at the bottom (it discourages critters from burrowing in) and fastened with zip ties. I went after the new ground with a heavy tiller, donated by the same parishioner. The heavy machine did an awful lot of the work, but it still took its toll on me – hard work in the hot sun.

There’s something very diaconal about working in the garden. Things diaconal have been on my mind, because I’m preaching an ordination of deacons soon. It’s a privilege, and I’m honored that the ordinands would request me. And it certainly has my attention.

As I said, there’s something very diaconal about working in the garden, not least the parallel with the first seven appointed by the apostles. This garden is one of a number supporting the feeding ministries in Kansas City, recently reported here at the Café. At its inception, the ministry of those first seven deacons was also a feeding ministry. “Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.…’” (Acts 6:1-3) While the fencing and the tilling weren’t as direct or immediate as serving at the tables, the food we produce will be served in its time.

More broadly, working in the garden also reflects for me something of the deacon’s vocation as described in the Prayer Book. The Outline of the Faith, the Prayer Book catechism, says, “The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need….” In the Ordination Rite, the new deacons are told, “You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” (BCP p. 543) I have written before of my own sense that gardening gives me a glimpse into the work that many in the world have to do simply to feed themselves and their families. In this case, the work goes toward feeding the homeless and hungry closer to home.

In another personal reflection, this work is diaconal for me because I’m not in charge. Both the Ordination Rite and the Outline of the Faith emphasize that the deacon’s work is about assisting. I’ve already noted the role in assisting those in need. However, the vocation is also about assisting those in charge – both their bishops, and also the priests to whom the bishops assign them. In this garden, I am not the one in charge. I’m one taking directions. I certainly support the work, not least because the leader in the garden is my wife; but in this work I’m absolutely a dutiful follower.

At the same time, what I’ve been doing really enables what others will do. Paul said, “One plants, another waters, but God gives the growth.” Well and good: but, if the ground is not tilled, the planting cannot happen. If the rabbits aren’t kept out, the harvest will not be what it could be, and some crops won’t come to harvest at all (after all, even rabbits have favorites). As the diaconate has grown over the past generation, deacons have often been asked to enable the work of others, both by leading specific ministries and by educating to help people find their own vocations.

I will admit that I am acutely aware of diaconal themes in ministry. The fact is that as a hospital chaplain most of my work has to do with showing the compassion of the church by assisting those in need, serving in a setting where I’m not in charge. Much of my own chaplaincy involves administrative activities that are intended to guide and enable the ministries of others. It is true that my work also includes celebrating the Eucharist in the hospital chapel and anointing the sick, and that I have the opportunities to help many colleagues by supplying in their parishes. However, when most of the work is considered, I believe (and have shared with bishops) that healthcare chaplaincy can be an appropriate ministry for a deacon.

I’m also clear that many of the activities I’ve cited, and certainly my work in the garden, don’t require ordination at all. I’ve heard over the years the complaints from some priests that the resurgence of the diaconate has simply taken a number of very effective lay ministers and added them to the ranks of the ordained. I would certainly agree that some priests simply don’t take advantage of the deacons who serve with them.

I still think we can call these ministries diaconal, whoever might carry them out; and we can appreciate the vocations of the deacons in our midst. They lead and model these ministries for our edification, and for the edification of the Church – literally, the building up of the Body.

Perhaps we can go a step further. We have long held in the Episcopal Church that we share in the priesthood of all believers. We have also long held that the Christian faith and life is not simply about what we believe, but also about how we demonstrate our belief in service in the world. Certainly, we emphasize in the Baptismal Covenant proclaiming by example, and seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Perhaps we need to think about the diaconal ministries in which we all might serve, and in which ordained deacons can lead us. Perhaps we need to think about “the diaconate of all believers.”

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Seeking efficiencies and improvements in the deployment process

By George Clifford

Conversations I hear about the clergy profiles and search process managed by the Church Deployment Office (CDO) reveal widespread dissatisfaction and make me wonder if a better, lower cost alternative exists. Many clergy, dioceses, and parishes have already informally opted out of the CDO system. Concurrently, The Episcopal Church faces continuing revenue shortfalls forcing program reductions. As difficult as change can be for some people and organizations, now seems a propitious moment to explore options for improving service while saving money.

LinkedIn is not only free but the premier social networking site for professionals seeking employment and organizations seeking to hire executives. What would happen if TEC utilized LinkedIn, instead of the current CDO system, for helping clergy (and lay employees) and employers (parishes, dioceses, etc.) in the call process?

A couple of preliminary disclaimers are important. Although I have a LinkedIn account, I’m far from an experienced LinkedIn user. Nor do I stand to benefit financially if my suggestion is adopted.

A task force of stakeholders and highly proficient Episcopal LinkedIn users can probably develop a workable set of tactics and policies with relative speed and ease. Hundreds of self-identified Episcopalians already use LinkedIn. Some have connected through existing LinkedIn groups that include school alumni, parishes, ministries to help job seekers, and several dioceses.

To stimulate creativity, suggest the viability of relying on LinkedIn, and to initiate a conversation, here are a few, broad-brush ideas on how TEC might employ LinkedIn for its clergy placement system:

First, TEC could organize two or three user groups. The organizer controls membership in the group, offering a means to exclude the “unwashed.” One group would consist of Episcopal clergy (and perhaps those interested in lay positions); this group would be similar to the CDO profile database. Another group would consist of parishes and other organizations wishing to hire a member of the first group. This second group would be analogous to the CDO database of employment opportunities. A third group possible group would consist of diocesan deployment officers, bishops, and other key players in the call process.

Second, each group might have standard forms or information that each group member completes. This would allow for as much flexibility as a resume designed by the person seeking a call and as much structure as the current profile system for both individuals and calling parishes and organizations. This information could easily include links to a priest’s blog, website of parishes previously served, or a recruiting congregation or organization’s website.

Third, many (most?) participants in this plan would probably know one or more current LinkedIn users, Episcopalian or not, who could provide free, local, and timely coaching. This might increase, compared to the CDO, the number of individuals seeking a call and calling organizations who participate, additionally enhancing the value of replacing the CDO system with LinkedIn.

Fourth, LinkedIn provides apparently adequate security for the personal information (name, address, telephone numbers, email, etc.) that the system requires. Otherwise, LinkedIn’s millions of current users would not find the system sufficiently secure. LinkedIn users must establish a free account with password protection, preventing most unauthorized access to data.

Fifth, LinkedIn’s search capabilities probably match or exceed those of the CDO present system. In other words, the change should not degrade but may improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current system. This also might increase the number of individuals and organizations choosing to rely on the system, again improving effectiveness and efficiency. If LinkedIn did not provide an adequate search capability, neither Fortune 500 companies or professionals seeking positions that pay six figure salaries would bother using LinkedIn. Although the content and tasks of ministry differ greatly from secular positions, the recruiting (or call) processes are very similar.

Sixth, the Episcopal Church would own no infrastructure nor encounter any fees for utilizing LinkedIn. System improvements would be compliments of LinkedIn. CDO personnel could serve as field consultants. Alternatively, TEC might capture some portion, or all, of the CDO budget as cost savings without any program reductions. A free process that works 90-95% as effectively and efficiently as a proprietary system looks like a very good value in today’s austere fiscal environment.

The current CDO system reflects pre-internet thinking, awkwardly updated for the personal computer and then internet eras. Current planning anticipates replacing the printed version of Episcopal Life with an exclusive, online version; the online version already distributes more content in a timelier manner. Prompted by decreasing reliance on newspapers for information, increasing use and availability of the internet, and a continuing need for good stewardship (i.e., to reduce costs), dioceses are replacing legacy communication systems with internet based solutions. Adoption of a clergy placement system based on a free, social networking site for professional placement, such as LinkedIn, will similarly move TEC away from another legacy system with its frustrating limitations and unnecessary costs.

Rumor has it that the CDO is developing a proprietary, interactive system to replace its current system. If so, this probably represents a second-best solution. The Church might exercise better stewardship of its limited funds by not purchasing proprietary computer code, funding beta testing, etc. Instead, using TEC resources to research the most effective search modality and best indicators of a good fit between a priest and parish would probably yield bigger dividends.

For example, which search modality is most likely to produce a rector who stays at least five years: a diocese recommending a single rector time-certain candidate; a targeted search in which the diocese recommends approximately five candidates; or the traditional parish-centered search process? In a minority of instances, an excellent choice as rector may beneficially stay a shorter period of time, e.g., a parish with a recent history of great trauma that needs much healing. Nevertheless, five years is a reasonable proxy for a good fit. Complementing that metric with annual data about number of baptisms, number of confirmations, average Sunday attendance, and operating budget would further refine the accuracy of the assessment. Furthermore, those search modalities require increasing amounts of time, ranging from several months to find a rector time-certain to as much as two years for the traditional search. Vacant cures, even with an excellent interim, generally inflict a toll on parishes. Search processes are also expensive. Yet no research exists about the effectiveness of each of the three search modalities.

God calls us, individually and collectively, to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. As much as we, God's frozen chosen, may prefer stolid immobility to change, the business of being the Church is always a means to an end and never an end in itself. Upon what other antiquated modus operandi does TEC rely to its detriment and financial loss? Do other, free alternatives exist that TEC can adapt and adopt to become a more effective, efficient steward of the resources God's people have entrusted to our care?

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh and blogs at Ethical Musings.

"I don't know how you do this day after day."

By Marshall Scott

“I don’t know how you do this, day after day.”

He was standing in the hall, outside the room. In the room, surrounded by other family members, his mother lay in a hospital bed, dead. He was standing outside, grieving in his own way, but in his own way unable to go to the bedside.

“I don’t know how you do this, day after day.”

This is hardly the first time I’ve heard that statement. Indeed, it is pretty common. Wrapped in, almost overwhelmed by their own sorrow, family members will look at us who walk with them through that sorrow, through the prism of their own fears. The family members don’t want this experience. How, then, can some of us make a career of accompanying them, and so many others, through it?

Several different thoughts go through my head at the question. One is that I’m the wrong person to ask. I grew up with a small town funeral home in the family. To visit my aunt and uncle was also to visit the funeral home, for they lived in a small apartment at the back, so as to be available at all times. Too, since it was a small town, to visit was almost always to walk in on someone else’s funeral, but someone my mother knew from childhood. It was simply a part of being in a large extended family, with roots spread through the community. Death was simply more of a family event for me.

Another is to recognize that it really is harder for the persons actually grieving than it is for us who walk with them. I have been on the other side, too; and I don’t think my grief, my fear, was really that much more controlled. That experience does help me empathize; but as empathetic as I can be, I know it’s harder for them.

I can acknowledge, too, that this isn’t something I do “day after day.” In my suburban, community hospital death really isn’t a daily occurrence. Grief and sorrow certainly are, for there are many losses other than death. At the same time, I still get to see most patients go home, stronger, in less pain, and with more hope.

But the most important answer isn’t about history or distance or balance. The most important answer, and one that I do share, is, “It’s what I’m supposed to do.” You see, the most important answer is about vocation. I can do this day after day – indeed, I have had periods of months when I did do it day after day – because it’s what God has called me to do. More broadly, it’s what God has called us to do, because I believe that vocation is as much a factor for the others I work with, nurses and doctors and social workers and aids, as it is for me. Whether we would use that language or not, whether we are conscious of it or not, underlying all of our work is vocation, a sense that we are called to this work, to this companionship in the face of grief.

Sometimes it’s easier to see this in other professions than in my own. For example, I have often noted that there are some specialties in which a nurse will work for either eighteen months or eighteen years. I have said that at various times about emergency room work, or intensive care, or pediatric nursing, or hospice. It’s not that those practices are all that much alike, except in the sense that each requires a special gift, a special charism, that allows the individual to sustain the particular variety of stress that is characteristic of each setting. Each environment creates a particular kind of emotional and spiritual stress, and finding one’s living in each seems to me to require a particular charism and vocation. Without that charism, that vocation, individuals will eventually leave, sometimes burning out before realizing that they need to leave, for a more amenable practice.

I think the same is true in our ministries, professional and otherwise. I have had colleagues in other ministries make the same comment as the grieving family member: “I don’t know how you do this day after day.” At the same time, I have to appreciate that I don’t know how they do what they do, either. It’s been a long time since God called me to parish ministry, and while God might call me to that yet (as I often remind candidates for ordination and others exploring vocation, the question isn’t just, “What is God calling me to,” but “What is God calling me to now?”), I can’t assume that I know how I would fare. I have been in parish ministry, a long time ago in a setting far, far away. I have clear memories of committee meetings where little seemed to happen, meetings where I found myself silently clawing at the arms of my chair. At the same time, I came to realize that those meetings were important in the life of the parish for the structural maintenance of the community all out of proportion to their “demonstrable outcomes.” For all the fulfillment we specialists find in “serving at the point of need” (not to mention excitement; I have often said that chaplains are the “adrenaline-junkies” of the clergy), the life of the Church, and the heart of the life of the individual Christian, is centered in the parish; and I appreciate my colleagues who have the special gifts to work in parishes well.

The lessons for this week, the Fifth after Epiphany, are about vocation. We hear of Isaiah’s call as “a man of unclean lips, in a people of unclean lips;” of Paul’s call “last of all, as one untimely born;” and of Peter’s call as “a sinful man.” Each of them carried out a special ministry, and carried it out for the remainder of their lives; but none of them could have done so without that call. Because of their vocations, they were able to provide special ministries, calling God’s people to hope in the face of great doubt and great grief. From their own words we hear it: it wasn’t their personal qualities or histories that sustained them. They simply did what they were called to do. They responded in the words Isaiah stated explicitly: “Here I am. Send me.”

There is in this world more than enough challenge and grief to go around. We are called to minister in one way or another in the face of - indeed, in the midst of - all of that challenge and grief. And if each of us sees in the ministries of others aspects that might be difficult, in fact others will see similar difficulties in ours. We are best able to minister day after day when we discover where we are called. Personal qualities and histories may in fact contribute to that discernment. On the other hand, if we pursue lives to which we are not called, we will not last eighteen years, or even eighteen months; and it may be burnout that shows us we are mistaken.

I have heard this in a hospital hall, from someone frightened of his own grief, but each of us in ministry and in service may well hear the same comment: “I don’t know how you do this day after day.” We may think about our gifts and skills, about our histories and our circumstances, for all of those may make their contribution. At bottom, though, the most important answer is a matter of vocation. One way or another, each of us experienced a call, a sense of vocation, for this ministry in this circumstance; and the most important reason that each of us can live and serve in this ministry is simply that on one way or another we answered: “Here am I. Send me.”

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

The psychology of the transitional diaconate II

This is the second of a two-part article. It was originally published in Vol. 31, # 4 of Diakoneo, the journal of the North American Association for the Diaconate (NAAD) and is reprinted with permission.

By Pamela McAbee Nesbit

There is a psychological explanation for why otherwise knowledgeable and sophisticated people become sentimental and careless in their thinking when they talk about the transitional diaconate. The explanation is that they are trying to reduce cognitive dissonance, an experience that comes about when a people behave in ways that do not fit their values or their sense of themselves. The ordination to the transitional diaconate has put every ordinand to the priesthood in exactly that situation. Every priest in the Episcopal Church has stood before a bishop at the examination for diaconal ordination and answered, “I believe I am so called” to the question “My brother or sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his church to the life and work of a deacon?” The 1928 Prayer Book used somewhat different language, but included the requirement that the ordinand say that he believes he is “truly called” to the ministry of a deacon. This is a requirement that has been fulfilled by every priest and bishop in the Episcopal Church, despite the fact that our priests are neither called nor trained to be deacons. I have been a member of the Commission on Ministry of the Diocese of Pennsylvania for over 10 years. In my time there, I have never seen any nominee for the priesthood examined for his or her call to the diaconate.

For those who have successfully completed the rigorous and lengthy requirements to become a priest to find themselves standing before a bishop in a solemn ceremony in which they are asked if they are “truly called” to the life and work of a deacon must be disconcerting in the extreme. What are they supposed to say? If they say “No, I’m not called to be a deacon, I’m called to be a priest” they will not be allowed to become a priest. This liturgical requirement of the Church puts ordinands to the priesthood in the position of either saying something they know to be untrue – that they are truly called to be deacon – or of finding a way to make it true. “Yes, I am truly called to be a deacon because I like the thought of being a deacon, or because the diaconate will teach me to be a servant.’ or “Yes, I am truly called to be a deacon because it will give me an understanding of my priestly ministry that I hold precious even as I am seen by the people in the church as what I am – a priest – not a deacon.”

Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling that people have when there is an inconsistency between what they believe and how they behave. For persons called to be priests, for whom liturgy is profoundly meaningful, to knowingly speak an untruth in an ordination ceremony creates enormous cognitive dissonance. Social psychological theory and research predicts that in the face of cognitive dissonance people will unconsciously change their beliefs in order to make the dissonance disappear. They will rationalize – which means they will construct a logical justification for their belief. But, because they are motivated by the desire to believe what reduces the dissonance, the quality of their thinking will be reduced. They are less likely to take all the facts into account. And they will not be willing to engage in real and thorough discussion of the issue about which they are rationalizing.

What I am suggesting is that the reason we continue to have a transitional diaconate, long after it makes any sense to do so, is because every new priest is forced to deal with the cognitive dissonance created by their diaconal ordination and particularly by that part of the examination that requires them to state that they are “truly called” to be deacons. The transitional diaconate is sustaining itself through its own liturgy and especially by the discomfort it creates in the hearts of ordinands required to affirm a call that is not theirs. I believe that if we had a generation of priests who were not required to be ordained as deacons, the arguments for the transitional diaconate would melt away very quickly as the rationalizations they are.
It takes courage to overcome cognitive dissonance. People have to learn to tolerate the discomfort so they can think clearly about the issue that is causing it. Cognitive dissonance tends to lead people to be stuck in patterns of behavior that don’t make much sense. That is how I see the Church at this time about this issue. I believe that part of the call of the deacons of the Episcopal Church is to gently but inexorably challenge the pious fiction of the transitional diaconate and help the church become the whole, organic body of Christ, called in baptism and living out our servant ministry in Jesus’ name.

The Rev. Deacon Pamela McAbee Nesbit, Ph.D. is president-elect of NAAD, organizer of the upcoming Diaconal Assembly and a deacon at Church of the Holy Nativity, Wrightstown, PA.

The psychology of the transitional diaconate I

This is the first of a two-part article. It was originally published in Vol. 31, # 4 of Diakoneo, the journal of the North American Association for the Diaconate (NAAD) and is reprinted with permission.

By Pamela McAbee Nesbit

As a psychologist and a deacon I have long been struck by the poor quality of the explanations offered for the existence of the transitional diaconate in our time. The rationale of the diaconate as presented in the 1928 Prayer Book at least made sense. It was a clear expression of cursus honorum, the vertical, hierarchical model of the church that requires those in holy orders to show fitness in one order before moving up to the next. The prayer at ordination asks that persons being taken into the office of Deacon may “so well behave themselves in this inferior Office, that they may be found worthy to be called unto the higher Ministries in thy Church…” The 1928 Prayer Book is clear. The diaconate is a probationary period in which a man will show himself worthy (or not) to become a priest. This is highly questionable ecclesiology, but at least it makes sense.

In the post war period this kind of thinking began to be challenged. In 1958 a resolution was adopted at Lambeth, which stated that “The office of Deacon shall be restored to its primitive place as a distinct order of the church, instead of being regarded as a probationary period for the priesthood.” This was proposed in response to a report from a committee that had studied the issue and concluded that the Church should either restore the diaconate or give it up. Give it up? The 1958 Lambeth Conference was actually invited to consider jettisoning one of the orders of the Church. However, given that the order of deacons had completely lost its original role, its functions having been taken over by either laypersons or priests, this shocking suggestion also makes sense.

The Anglican Church did not give up the diaconate. The Episcopal Church began to ordain men to the “permanent diaconate”. This experiment was not very successful as these new permanent deacons (ordained using the 1928 Prayer Book liturgy) had no ministry other than to be assistants to priests. Most of them were dissatisfied in their diaconal ministry, such as it was, and many of them became priests. The theology behind the 1979 revision of the prayer book took these mistakes into account. The 1979 Prayer Book intentionally makes the diaconate a full and equal order. Gone is the 1928 Prayer Book rationale for ordination to the diaconate by those called to be priests, although in canon law the transitional diaconate persists. And now, it seems to me, the Episcopal Church is struggling to explain why we continue to require that people called to be priests be ordained first as deacons.

As I have spoken to priests and bishops about the transitional diaconate and have read the rationales for its existence, I’ve been struck by the theological superficiality of the explanations I have encountered. The one I have heard most frequently is that the priest found his or her diaconal year “enjoyable”. I have heard this from many people, but the time I most clearly remember was when a priest said this to me in exactly the same tone of voice she might have used to say that she enjoyed a trip to the shore: “I enjoyed my diaconal year.” I was shocked. Certainly enjoyment is not meant to be the basis of ordination to any order of the Church.

A less offhand, but similar statement was made in a priest’s essay about the diaconate posted on his parish website. He begins by pointing out that some people believe the transitional diaconate is unnecessary and that it reduces the diaconate to an apprenticeship for priests. “However,” he goes on to say, “I rejoice that, even for six months, I served as a deacon. And I also believe that once a deacon, always a deacon – that I am both deacon and priest.”

I don’t question the sincerity of this priest’s rejoicing in his sense of himself as a deacon. However, I don’t see much difference between this and “I enjoyed my diaconal year.” Surely the diaconate is meant to be more than a source of joy to priests.

The other argument frequently put forward for the transitional diaconate was articulated on another parish website. In attempting to answer the question “What is a Deacon” the writer says the following: “There are two types of deacons. There are deacons who feel they are called to be deacons, period - called "Permanent or Vocational Deacons"; and there are deacons who feel they are also called to be priests and they serve as a deacon first, to remind them they are servants - called "Transitional Deacons".

This is an example of the frequently-made argument that, now that transitional deacons are no longer proving their worthiness for higher things, the purpose of the transitional diaconate is for priests to learn that they are servants. Surely it would have been better for them to have learned this as baptized people. The argument that the purpose of the transitional diaconate is to teach future priests to be humble, or to teach them anything at all, continues the questionable idea that the diaconate is a teaching device rather than a full and equal order. And, more disturbing, it continues that unacknowledged narcissism that makes one of the sacred orders of the Church be about what any individual feels or learns rather than about building up the Body of Christ. The question is, what do we ordain people for? So they can feel good? So that they can remember to be humble? I can’t imagine any priest or bishop in the Episcopal Church accepting such a trivialization of his or her order of ministry.

When Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori came to the assembly of the North American Association for the Diaconate in June 2007, she gave the keynote speech and then stayed for an extensive question and answer time. I am sure that this was the first time that Bishop Jefferts-Schori had been a room with over 200 deacons. She was gracious and encouraging, and had clearly come to both challenge and support us in our ministry. In the question and answer time someone asked about direct ordination. In defending the transitional diaconate, Bishop Katharine said, “Well, there’s something diaconal about the priesthood,” at which point many voices said back, respectfully but loudly, “That comes to you through your baptism!” It was my impression that Bp. Katharine was taken aback. But she stayed and talked to us for a long time. And, I have heard rumors that she is now suggesting that vocational deacons refer to ourselves as “real deacons”.

What struck me at the time was how superficial and inarticulate was the explanation of the normally profound and articulate Presiding Bishop. I am struck repeatedly by the, frankly, sloppy and dismissive arguments that people make when they defend the transitional diaconate now that the 1928 rationale is no longer (overtly) used. In 2003 the Standing Commission on Ministry Development brought a proposal to the General Convention recommending direct ordination. Deacon Ormonde Plater, writing in the Associated Parishes journal describes what happened next:

Faced with a resolution asking convention to approve direct ordination, the bishops chatted at their tables for a few minutes and had a brief, desultory debate in which Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan stated the main case for direct ordination. The voice vote was overwhelming opposed.

The ministry committee then crafted a revised canon on ordination to the priesthood, requiring the transitional diaconate, and sent the whole bunch of canons to the bishops, who loaded on 12 amendments and passed the canons unanimously. A day later, the last day of Convention, the House of Deputies concurred, despite grumbles about not having had a chance to study the heavily revised text.

The convention refused to really discuss it. Deacon Plater goes on to say:

Proposals for direct ordination will continue to come before Convention, as they have for the last two decades. Recent scholarly studies have removed much of the historical and theological arguments in favor of sequential ordination. John St. H. Gibaut, in two recent books, says the church should adopt either a five-year transitional diaconate or do away with it. What won’t go away so easily is the emotional attachment many priests and bishops have to their brief experience as deacons, and the consequent belief that the diaconate is the fundamental ministry of the church.

I think that the belief is really that the diaconate is the fundamental ministry of the clergy, thus denying that servant ministry belongs to the whole people of God. We are all called to serve, and making the diaconate the personal property of a priest’s sense of his or her ministry turns servant ministry into a lesson for priests and denies it as the basis of the ministry of all the baptized.

Deacon Plater speaks of the “emotional attachment many priests and bishops have their brief experience as deacons”. As a psychologist, this is what is most striking to me about the argument for the transitional diaconate. Normally articulate people are surprisingly inarticulate. Normally clear-thinking people offer surprisingly personal and superficial arguments such as that they enjoyed or rejoice in their diaconal time and value their sense of themselves as deacons. Mostly, my experience of this conversation is that priests and bishops become irritated and say whatever they need to say to stop the conversation. I have no idea if the bishops at the 2003 Convention were irritated by the SCMD’s proposal for direct ordination, however it is clear that they did not really debate and discuss the issues and they shut down any possibility that they might be debated and discussed in the House of Deputies.

The question I want to consider is why the quality of thinking about the transitional diaconate is so poor, while the motivation to keep it in place is so strong. There is no sound theological argument for the transitional diaconate – so why not get rid of it? Why not, at least, make it optional? Clearly, the Church’s inherent conservatism is part of the reason. Cursus honorum has been around for a long time, although it was not part of the Pre-Nicene Church. Anglicans don’t make changes in sacramental ministries easily or lightly, nor should we. It is understandable that there would need to be thorough and thoughtful study and conversation to consider such a fundamental change. But there has been very thorough study. And, as I have tried to show, the arguments against making the transitional diaconate at least optional are notable for not being thoughtful.

So why do people persist in making them?

The Rev. Deacon Pamela McAbee Nesbit, Ph.D. is president-elect of NAAD, organizer of the upcoming Diaconal Assembly and a deacon at Church of the Holy Nativity, Wrightstown, PA.

Vitality and the small church

By Kathleen Staudt

For the past few summers, with funding from Lilly Foundation, Virginia Seminary has hosted a 10-day Summer Collegium in support of pastors of small membership churches and their spouses. These are pastors of churches in mainline denominations with average Sunday attendance under 100. I’ve participated in the program in various leadership and teaching capacities and always come away with a sense that there IS good news about the church, less about numbers than about spirit, commitment and ability to embody the presence of Christ.

The people I meet at these gatherings are good, grounded pastors, many in very challenging practical situations. Some are at multi-point charges, some are bi-vocational; all are in churches with various kinds of financial struggles. But they do not see growth in numbers as a major goal, though they do see the importance of helping people be open to change and growth in spirit and in community life. What I find inspiring when I spend time with these pastoral leaders is their dedication to being with their people and “helping them to ‘be the church’” – I hear that language across denominations, and regardless of the pastoral and personal challenges that small church ministry presents.

Small mainline churches offer the continuing presence of a thoughtful, practical Christian faith in their communities, and the people in them are formed by their lives together. There are churches represented here that are focal points of their local communities, engaging in genuine, effective, heartfelt mission work both locally and nationally. They understand about mission and faithfulness; they have a vision of themselves as the People of God in their contexts. Perhaps most important, they are small communities but they persist, they are still there – and expect to be remaining where they are even as the broader, wider church changes.

Since our job is to support the pastors, we do hear about their pain, their challenges, the splits and controversies that plague our congregations. But running through all of this is a sense that the Church of Christ is still alive, still present in these communities, and seeking ways to be faithful in the face of challenges that have been there, off and on, for generations and sometimes centuries. For these congregations, controversies within and across denominations may affect their histories some, and there are sometimes histories of conflicts and regroupings, but there’s a ground base of continuity that really has nothing to do with the Great Issues of judicatories and church conventions . There’s simplicity of focus: people are involved in their churches as a foundational part of their family and community life. They are worshipping and doing ministry where they are, and their pastors know them, love them, pray with them and walk with them while they are there, recognizing that congregations persist and pastors nurture and lead them for a time. These leaders know that there is something bigger about being the church than the individual pastor, even as they also know how to be “wise as serpents and innocent as lambs where evil is concerned.”

There are many ways to be church, and not all of them are large and well resourced. Indeed, when I look at the way that these gifted, dedicated people are managing, I sometimes wonder if I am looking at least in part at the Church of the Future, where some of the norms of institutional survival that we now hold may just have to change. Small churches (which make up the majority of most mainline denominations) know the truth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement that “the church of God takes up space in the world.” Those we hear about here continue to embody a living faith, expressed in the struggle to be a faithful and loving community even when the struggle is difficult. Spending time with these pastors always leaves me with the feeling that the Church, the body of Christ, is real, carrying out its mission in homely and human ways that are profoundly incarnational, and that whatever challenges we face as big denominations, the lives of congregations find ways to continue, testimony to the presence in the world of persistent, faithful Christian faith and practice.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

The Rev. Pookie

By Howard Anderson

It was a bit like the movie “Father of the Bride,” when Steve Martin’s daughter announced that she was getting married. Rather than seeing the lovely, mature woman in front of him, the Daddy in him sees his little girl, in pigtails, saying a ridiculous thing-“I’m getting married.” Our little Pookie getting ordained? How can it be? As Bishop Alan Scarfe, the Bishop of Iowa laid hands on our little girl, making her a transitional deacon, I was seeing something quite different, and someone quite different.

I was seeing, in my mind’s eye, the new born baby girl, who, when I held her the first time, changed my life forever. I was seeing the little blonde Haole girl running naked across the hot sand at Makapu’u beach, her little bottom covered with sand, accompanied by several of her little friends, and the “herd” of them jumping, laughing into the Pacific. I was seeing the little girl standing in front of her stuffed animals, her faithful old dog propped up in a bean bag chair, with glasses on her snout, with thin slices or radish she had picked from the salad, handing each a thin, white slice and saying “take, eat, this is my body.”

I was shaken out of my reverie by a small voice next to me saying, “Papi, Momma is crying, what did Bishop Alan do to her?” Now there’s a question for you! My grandson, Will, watching his Momma kneeling before the Bishop, tears streaming down her face, was concerned. I leaned toward him and said, “Don’t worry Will, those are tears of joy. Your Momma is very happy to be ordained.”

I was moved to be asked to be a presenter. My wife, Linda, and I, just as when we held her at her baptism, at her various graduations, Will’s baptism, stood this day to support her in her decision to answer the call of The Holy One to give her vocational life to serve God’s people as an ordained person. As I listened to Bishop Scarfe preaching to and about Kesha, I could sense how deeply he knew our little girl, now a woman. She had been on his diocesan staff, and all her foibles, gifts, skills and charisms he knew well. And what a window on her soul his words were…and challenging. More tears. The symbol of unity in the Church, the Bishop, was ordaining a person, our little one, with such tenderness and insight. And then I began to remember. My own ordination as a Deacon came back so clearly.

I remembered, years earlier, a bishop I loved and love still, Bob Anderson, laying hands on me. Like my daughter, I, too, had been a lay professional for many years before I was ordained. And like Bishop Scarfe, Bishop Anderson was ordaining someone he knew well. These two men were ordaining someone whom they had loved, challenged, counseled, someone with whom they had laughed and cried in many unguarded moments. Warts and all, fears and gifts, accomplishments all laid humbly before the Holy One…all made holy through Christ’s love and the power of the Spirit.

Feelings washed over me and time slowed, as the ordination proceeded. Kesha had fought the call to ordination almost as long as I had. Proud lay professionals in the Church for over a decade, she and I were alike in this way. I had feared God could not be trusted. I could not get myself to believe what I preached, that The Holy Spirit guided the Councils of the Church and guided God’s people to call some apart for ordination. Kesha and I had always talked “shop.” And we both believed that the primary vocational sacrament was not ordination, but Baptism. And yet, here she was. Now ordained.

Kesha as a 10 year old, watched another family member, her uncle, announce that he was leaving his position as an athletic trainer and physical therapist for a major Division I university athletic department to follow his older brother to seminary. This was just too much of her. Her mother a parish school principal, and her Daddy, two uncles, a great grandfather and four great uncles all ordained. She placed her little hands on her scrawny hips and crossly said, “Now all we’ll ever talk about at family gatherings is God!”

But The Holy One is a patient and persistent suitor. And here we were. Father and daughter…both reluctant, both now ordained. Her collar felt too tight she said. She was not convinced that there was an ontological change. “Will my friends all stop cussing around me and only want to talk about church?”

And then the pictures. The Mom and Dad and ordinand, their baby, newly ordained and chafing already at the collar. The proud husband and even prouder little boy all smiles. More tears. More laughter.

Future and past all collapsed into a wintry Iowa day when a young woman began a new and perilous journey off to fight the good fight armed with only a bit of bread, a little wine, some olive oil and a couple of books. Paltry things in the world’s eyes. Very ordinary. But with the Spirits gifts empowered, just enough. The Rev. Pookie now thank you. The Rev. Pookie.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is rector of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Pacific Palisades, California. He was a long time General Convention deputy and most importantly, is grandfather to a six-year-old theologian, Will.

Facebook, Scotch and Video Games:
Balm for the pastor's soul

By W. Tay Moss

While drinking cocktails at a retreat for new priests a few years ago my colleagues and I started talking about the things we do in our offices that we don't want parishioners to see. One fellow admitted to spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, another, blushing, admitted to hours spent playing "World of Warcraft." My vice, I admitted, was video games, specifically ultra-violent first person shooters like "Counter-Strike."

"Nothing makes me feel better after a long day at the church," I admitted proudly, "than owning some noobs."

They nodded in appreciation and acceptance--we all do what we have to achieve pastoral equilibrium. Where a previous generation of priests resorted to alcohol, many in the ranks now turn on their computers to tune out. While this is probably a healthier form of self-care than a potential chemical dependency, the shame associated with it raises some import questions about the theology of work as applied to ministry.

I first became aware of how video games could make me happier when I was doing a nine-month Clincial and Pastoral Education residency. Working as a chaplain in a busy, urban hospital was extremely stressful. Every other week I would be on-call for a 24-hour period to respond to every death and emergency in the facility. On some days that could mean as many as six or seven deaths. At the hospital I inevitably found myself self-medicating with food (and in my hospital's cafeteria the only options late at night were greasy, fatty, and loaded with guilt).

Once I came home I would be utterly useless. I could manage to sleep, eat, and drink--but what I really wanted to do was go online and kill some people. In the game "Counter-Strike" you play on a team of "Terrorists" or "Counter-Terrorists." The Terrorists have an objective, like holding hostages or planting a bomb, and the Counter-Terrorists attempt to rescue the hostages or protect the bomb target. The combat simulation is relatively bloodless, but since all the characters are avatars for real people, the action is intense and fiercely competitive.

It has taken me years of practise to develop the twitch-like reflexes necessary to keep up. I went from being just another "noob" (new player) to "owning" (being skillful).

Naturally, all this simulated killing caused my conscience to twitch a little, too. I told my therapist about my habit only to see her shrug.

"It makes sense to me," she said. "You spend all day helping people, where does that aggressive energy go? Sometimes you have to get out of your heart and into your balls." Did I mention that my therapist is also one of the coolest priests I know?

I think there is more going on than displaced testosterone. Clearly the need to "escape" or "zone out" has something to do with it. I remember a mentor once telling me that if the signature mental illness of doctors was narcissism and nurses was co-dependence, that of priests was alcoholism. "All that formalism and sensitivity," he suggested, "have a shadow."

This makes sense, too, but while I can certainly understand why a priest who drinks too much would want to hide that from his or her congregation, why all the shame around some harmless computer games? I know priests who have even arranged their offices so that someone coming in won't see the computer screen. Is it because playing video games in your office is unprofessional? Perhaps. But I even feel guilty when I go to the gym during the day! Rather, I think it is a result of the general myth that self-care comes at the expense of "getting things done" at the church. So many ministers I know feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they have taken on in ministry that they feel guilty or ashamed when they do anything else "on church time."

Alas, so much of "getting things done" for pastors is about who they are, not what they do. In that context, being a healthy person is far more important than most of the things that occupy our ministry time. Who cares if we've developed a plan to deal with stewardship development or updated the calendar on the church website if we can't look people in the eye and tell them about the Kingdom of God?

All this leads to renewed understanding of "leisure." In Benedictine circles leisure is about having space in your life for all the things you need to put in it--including time for re-creation and rest.

Forsaking "leisure" for the sake of work is simply bad theology and poor stewardship, no matter what our protestant-work-ethic-soaked culture might tell us. So I'd like to invite my game-playing friends to reflect on that the next time they decide to avoid playing for the sake of work.

The Rev. Tay Moss is an Episcopal priest currently serving the Church of The Messiah, Toronto. Besides enjoying hot-peppers, martinis, and monks (though usually not together), Tay maintains a blog between pastoral duties.

Please submit your comments in the form of a question

By Kit Carlson

I was on Jeopardy! recently. Maybe you saw it. I was the woman in the middle. The one with the clerical collar on.

It’s strange enough to be a contestant on this 25-year-old, beloved game show (and it’s even older, if you count the original incarnation with host Art Fleming), but stranger still to be a priest playing Jeopardy!

“Wear your collar,” advised a former parishioner, who had won three days in a row a few years ago. “Oh, please, please, please wear your collar,” urged one of my Sunday School teachers. “You’re going to wear your collar, aren’t you?” asked a vestry member. For some reason, it was very important to these people that I be identifiable to the world as a priest playing Jeopardy!

It does seem odd, I guess, to have a cleric up there, zinging one-liners with Alex Trebek and trying to take home cash in Ken Jennings-sized quantities. Not as odd as you may think, however. There has been a little boomlet in clergy contestants on Jeopardy! Yes, usually they get lawyers and librarians and teachers. The show does self-select for geeky types who love to read. But most clergy fit that exact description: geeky types who love to read. At my live audition in Chicago (at which I did wear my collar), there was a UCC pastor in the group as well. In the intervening weeks between the audition and my own taping, I saw at least three other clerics give it a run.

And I have always wanted to go on Jeopardy! My cousin Richard Cordray (now Treasurer of Ohio) went on in the ‘80s and won five days in a row, then went back for Tournament of Champions. My mother always nagged me, “Why don’t you go on that show? You know as much as Richard. Look how well he did. You should go on Jeopardy! too.” And playing from my sofa, I often figured, yes – I could do this. I could be on Jeopardy!

So when I saw last winter that there was an internet audition, I did it. Just for laughs, and for my late mother’s memory, too. Then last spring, they called me to go for a live audition. So I went. Just for a few more laughs, and to silence my mother’s nagging inside my head. And four weeks later, they called and asked me to fly to LA to COMPETE ON JEOPARDY!!!! (Insert high-pitched squeals here …)

But it also messes with your head, to be a priest who plays Jeopardy! First of all, it’s hard to just get into the greedy, greedy, give-me-more game show mentality. Did I want to win five days in a row? Did I want to go on and on and on like Ken Jennings? That would totally mess with vestry meetings and hospital visitations, for sure. And what about that money, if I did win? Yes, I have credit card debt and kids in college and I need every penny of my salary and then some. But it also seemed inappropriate to just take a bunch of winnings and keep them to myself.

W.W.J.D? as the bracelets say. In between learning in April that I had been selected to go for a live audition in Chicago in May, I went on a mission trip to Haiti. This nation, only 500 miles from Miami, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The level of poverty is beyond imagining. And the group I traveled with, the Haiti Outreach Mission () (a group of Catholic and Episcopal parishes, mostly from Detroit), has built a clinic and an orphanage and is making some real impact in the town of Mirebalais. So that answered the question for me. Whatever I got, I would give to the Haiti Outreach Mission.

So I went to L.A. I wore my collar. I played the game. I came in second, by just $100 there in Final Jeopardy! But that still meant I would get a $2,000 runner-up prize. And that, at least, could go to Haiti.

The only issue then became dancing this strange dance of publicity and notoriety. Because after all these years of wanting to go on Jeopardy!, I did want people to know that I had finally made it on, and to watch the show. But it’s vaguely embarrassing to be calling attention to myself. Everything I do I want to point not to me, but to the gospel and to the joy of knowing that God loves us, and to the things that are good and strong about the Episcopal Church.

But Lansing is a smallish city, so the newspaper wanted to interview me. And the local affiliate that airs Jeopardy! wanted to interview me. And so I put the collar on again, because this time I also wanted the world to know that I was a priest who plays Jeopardy!

I wanted to see printed very boldly in the paper, and filmed very prominently on TV, the words ALL SAINTS EPISCOPAL CHURCH, so that people in our region would know there was a community that went with the collar, a place they might want to explore on a Sunday morning (if only to see if the sermon is delivered entirely in the form of a question).

But more than that, I hoped that people would stop for one second and think about that disconnect – a priest playing Jeopardy! I hoped they would think about what happens when a person who stands for God also stands in the crack between the church world and the secular world so that each can see the other. So that each might speak to each other. So that each might, a little bit less, stop fearing the other.

Answer: A priest and Jeopardy!

Question: What are two things that maybe do have something to do with each other after all?

The rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich., she blogs at Saints Alive!
Who is the Rev. Kit Carlson?

Called to leave

By Melody Shobe

I recently left a church I love. Not for any sensationalist reason, but for the simple fact that God was calling me elsewhere and it was time for me to go. The fact that I left for the right reason didn’t make it any easier. It was a church that felt like my church, and a group of people who had quickly become my people. Nothing about leaving was easy, and the hardest part of the whole thing was having to say goodbye.

Because goodbyes are uncomfortable. They generally entail a lot of fuss and attention. There are goodbye lunches and final conversations. There is the inevitable “well, I might not see you again, so I just wanted to say…” There are the cards that you receive and the cards that you write. And, for a priest, there is the last Sunday that you stand in a pulpit and address a congregation as your people.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to try to say in one conversation or one card or one newsletter article all the things that you want to say to people who mean a lot to you. And to attempt and say it from a pulpit while holding tears at bay is even worse. It is one of those messy emotional situations where words fail and you walk a fine line between composure and breakdown. There was a big part of me that wanted to skip the goodbye all together. To talk about it as little as possible. To pretend it wasn’t happening. To sneak out the backdoor while no one was looking.

I thought honestly about doing just that. But, first of all, I knew that my church wouldn’t let me get away with it. And secondly, I knew that it was not what God was calling me to do. Because, if you read the gospels, you quickly learn that Jesus thought goodbyes were important. He took a lot of time to say goodbye to the disciples, his dearest friends, in the right way. In fact, Jesus started saying goodbye almost from the beginning. Trying to tell them where he was going, and why he had to go. Trying to make sure that he taught them everything that he could before he left. Trying to be clear so that when he was gone, they would know that he still loved them.

Saying goodbye isn’t easy. It is one of the hardest and messiest parts of being in relationship with other people. It comes with a lot of sadness and pain and uncertainty. But it is also a part of our spiritual journey; a part of the life that God calls us to live. We have to honor the relationships that we have by taking the time to say goodbye well, by making sure that we don’t just sneak out the backdoor to make it easier on ourselves. How you leave a place, how you say goodbye, is sometimes even more important than a first impression. So we have to make sure to say goodbye well, even if it is through tears.

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

Stress and the striving Christian

By Marshall Scott

Well, the summer is over, and with it another summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), as well as another year-long CPE residency. One set of students has left, and another is arriving, beginning, in this case, another year-long commitment. (Students with shorter commitments will come in their appropriate times.)

I know my colleagues, the Supervisors (teaching chaplains) of the program, are hopeful that the new students will do well. That means in part providing good care for patients, as well as interacting well with one another. It means being attentive to their learning opportunities, whether through clinical experiences or more academic activities. It also means the Supervisors hope they will have the expected work ethic.

Any of us who has had even the basic experience of chaplaincy provided by that one CPE unit required in seminary will know that chaplaincy isn't a 40-hour job. And any of us with experience in any other professional ministry will know the same thing. The work of ministry doesn't really settle down into five eight-hour days, whether in the parish or in clinical settings. We know that longer days, longer weeks, are just part of the profession; it goes with the territory.

So, I hear periodically from my colleagues, "What are we going to do with these students? They just disappear at 4:30." Granted, in some ways it's easier for our students than, say, for me. The students get most of their experience in a large hospital as part of a large staff. With lots of people around, it's easier to get the work done and to get home. Too, students don't have administrative responsibilities that many staff chaplains have. Some of the things that bring me in early and keep me late just aren't part of their job description. And I've always thought myself we need to keep in mind that they are students, here for their learning and growth, and not just cheap labor.

Still, I hear the question about work ethic, and I hear it from colleagues in both clinical and parochial ministries. "What are we going to do with these young clergy, these interns, these new folks?"

Long ago, in a church far, far away, when I was a seminarian, our faculty spoke to us of balance and managing stress. They spoke to us of setting appropriate limits, both on our time and our energy. They spoke of protecting our family life. They spoke of protecting our emotional and spiritual resources, with good support and a healthy spiritual life. They encouraged us not to work ourselves to burnout, much less to death. And they encouraged us to model such good emotional and spiritual balance for our parishioners.

Not that we took them all that seriously. We knew the score. We knew that it wasn't that simple. We knew, if only we'd been paying attention to our own clergy before we entered seminary, that this, like any other profession, called for long hours and long days. I remember asking my own rector what day of the week he found best to take off. He said, "Well, I don't have one regular day off. Enough happens in the parish that it's hard to take the same day each week. But, I do try to take one whole day each week." I knew then that he didn't get a day off each week, and that if I could manage only that I'd be making progress.

Still, we did hear what our faculty told us, and I think many of us did try to convey that to parishioners. Some of them even heard it, at least for themselves. On the other hand, many of us found that, whatever they might hear from us about their lives, their expectations for our lives were still the same: long hours and constant availability. Getting them to change their expectations of themselves, to allow for more grace in their own lives, was hard enough. Getting them to change their expectations of us--well, some days, some places, that seemed beyond us.

So what, then, can we do with these new residents, these new clergy? They seem to be setting appropriate limits, both on their time and their energy. They seem to be protecting family life, to be protecting emotional and spiritual resources, with good support and a healthy spiritual life. They seem committed to not working themselves to burnout, much less to death. And they seem to be modeling good emotional and spiritual balance.

Maybe we ought to learn from them. Perhaps I'm a bit more conscious of this these days. I'm getting ready to experience Episcopal CREDO, a retreat/renewal/vocational experience for Episcopal clergy offered by the clergy wellness folks at the Church Pension Group. Suddenly, the level of stress that seems normal to me seems a matter of concern to someone else. There are questions about stress in the health screening that's part of the process. I identified my stress level as "Moderate," thinking I was doing pretty well. Thinking I was doing pretty well, when asked whether I had any plans to address my stress, I said, "No." Lo and behold, when the results came back, stress was for me a risk factor!

And I hardly think I'm all that unique. I'm certain I'm not unique among clergy, but in fact I'm not unique among Christians. We have been encouraged to seek "the peace which passes all understanding." We have been called by Christ to "Come, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And yet, we seem more driven by one old adage or another like, "Jesus is coming. Look busy;" or, "Pray like it all depended on God, but work like it all depended on you." In our desire to control our environment, including to "work out our own salvation," we fall again and again into works righteousness, implicitly denying God's grace and our own limitations.

So, what will we do with these new residents, these new clergy, these new people, when they set good limits, and care for themselves, and trust God to take care of those things they can't? Perhaps we should pay attention. Perhaps, as both Paul and Benedict suggested, they have something to teach, and we have something to learn. If we can learn, even at long last, that balance we in our own time were called to, we will be better persons; and those of us in orders will be better clergy. We will model for our own people and for the world healthier lives. We will lead those we serve toward a healthier community. Most important, we will demonstrate what we have long proclaimed: that all of life is God's, and that in all of life--even in those most pedestrian activities of life--we are saved, not by our own efforts, but by God's grace.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Is today's clergyperson
a professional?

By Adrian Worsfold

Recent ongoing stories about church decline in the United Kingdom have raised questions again about deployment of human resources. Much of this is based around what the clergy is for and what it does, how it fits into society, and what it can do differently from other people.

The status of clergy has risen and fallen over time. At one time many a family of some land would put a son or two into the clergy, rather as others had a career in the military. What the clergyman did not get as a reward, he received in status. This was also a visible connection between class and clergy, and one reason why the Church of England found itself at some distance from the urban poor and indeed even the urban middle class.

One solution to the decline of religion regarding changing society and the decline of the status of the clergyman was to connect the clergyman with professionalism. By calling him a professional, the clergy hitched itself to a method in modern society of raising status.

In general, the professional receives specialist training that follows on from having achieved a necessary level of education. To some extent, the professional possesses a secret knowledge not available to others. That knowledge gives a surplus value that shields the professional from the changeable weather of market and labour economics. In order to enact that knowledge upon others, with either fees or no fees to the public (as in the National Health Service), the professional needs to be trusted. It is a key relationship. Professionals have clients not customers. This means the professional has a code of ethics. So important is trust, that the professional comes under a regime of self-regulation via the special participatory and regulatory group he or she is obliged to join. Indeed, joining such a group and being accepted as a member is a clear piece of evidence that the individual professional is to be trusted. The salary may or may not relate to the work; nevertheless there is a responsibility in the work and a reward that comes from the work in itself. The professional is a specialist, of course, whereas under the watchful eye of the professional association, it is up to managers to run the mundane aspects of the organisation within which the professional works. The professional may work alone or in teams, but they are always separated off.

Sometimes the professional nature of a group is under doubt. Do they really have knowledge that is unavailable elsewhere? Whatever, a profession creates entry-barriers and looks after its status. It creates restricted areas of practice, and seeks support in the wider legal system for such protection. It attempts to maintain at least a pretence that there is a distant connection with market forces, even though in reality such a claim to profession may be an attempt simply to skew a more beneficial market position.

Is today's clergyperson a professional? The connection has always been tenuous. One reason why a clergyperson might be is the relationship of trust and a client basis of an approach to him or her. This is why Roman Catholic Church scandals of clergymen and abuse have been so damaging. Nowadays in the UK clergypeople and churchpeople as much as anyone else need to be checked through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) before coming near children. It is no longer so unusual to see a clergyperson end up on the sex offenders' register.

The next question is whether they have specialist knowledge. What is it that they have? Well it used to be theological training, as comparatively few laypeople had the university education and then years in a theological college for both specialist knowledge and practice. Nowadays many go to university, and quite a number will do some or even all the topics an ordinand might cover. On top of this, theological training and education is being given more to lay people as lay people simply do more of the work.

Some activities are reserved for clergy. Anglicans have rules and licences about who can do what in church, and the clergyperson is the one who does the Eucharistic service. There may be theological reasons for this, but from the point of view of professionalism it looks like protection for the sake of it. I come via a tradition where the layperson could do anything that the clergyperson did, and indeed they stopped ordaining clerics as a matter of course. I continue to see no reason why lay people properly prepared cannot do all the functions of a clergyperson. This might join my radical liberalism with Sydney fundamentalism, but there we are. Report after report about clergy and laypeople in the Church of England have envisaged more and more lay involvement with some radical solutions; in terms of money, it seems that the radical solution is to make people clerics but not to pay them. They may or may not have been to university; they may have a secular job or even profession, but they do some reduced training (more and more is distant training, not formation in a college) and then they are ordained and can do what other paid clerics do. They join the profession.

I take the view that this professionalism-chasing is all a red herring. A clerical person surely needs to act according to trust, but there is no profession in terms of a speciality. He or she is a generality, a viewpoint over all specialities, a worker among workers, and yet hopefully one who can find time (less so if unpaid) for the other. Such is a person for others.

However, increasingly such a person, not a professional, is a manager. This person does have to be the key paid person, even among the unpaid clerics. There is a special responsibility to carry the plant, equipment and people into some co-ordinated whole in any locality. This person should be the communicator and information conduit above and yet among all others (as well as the person who, pastorally, knows when to shut up and keep confidences - the two actually go hand in hand).

The reason for this is decline. I have noticed, since being in the Church of England again, just how often things that could be managed and co-ordinated are left to drift. Parishes that get joined together are often done so in order that some will close, by some sort of Darwinian process of the death of the weakest.

One may say, "What about bishops?" Of course, these too must be managers. But they are a supervisory management. They should indeed initiate and enact overall purposes and goals. However, increasingly in the UK we have "Minster Church" models of a central church where the staff congregate with oversight for other churches of an area, and here is where "management" must take place. Here is where the education and skills training can take place of local people, of setting up systems of qualitative evaluation, and of having the formal and informal meetings that set up those all important loops of planning and information.

The idea of the cleric as a professional, as a somewhat even lonely practitioner in one place and separated off, should be killed off. In a situation where five per cent of people attend church with any regularity, the team that does attend should be empowered, communicating and sharing. Whatever the diversity of personnel, and whatever variable theologies they have, when it comes to co-ordinated and practical output, good management should be able to produce a situation where, as the saying goes, they are all 'singing from the same hymn sheet'.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

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