Our item on why people don't go to church is eliciting some heartfelt comments. This one from Ben Miller speaks to what he sees as problems in the way in which we discern priestly vocations. Miller writes:
I attended a recent ordination of someone to the diaconate. The priest, visiting to the Cathederal from the home parish of the postulant was the homilist. I sat totally absorbed in what he preceded to say. He explained that we do, in fact, live, in a post modern/post Christian world. He went on to state that being Christian is now no longer the norm and that the wearing of a clerical collar no longer commands the social status and respect it once did. In essence, he said that to be Christian today is countercultural. He then went on to state in more or less words how convoluted and excruciating the TEC's process for discernment and recommendation for the ordained ministry was and how he thought perhaps it was more complicated than it should be.
As I sat there and listened along with everyone else, including the bishop of the diocese, I thought to myself how true. How very, very true.
Christianity started out as a countercultural movement and here it is again in our postmodern world in the same state it started out in.
Ignorance fuels the rejection of Christ's Good News. Bureaucracy stalls the intimacy, and at times, blocks the love of God to others. Many good and worthy people have been turned away, not only from taking Holy Orders, but at the very doors of parishes and shunned at typical "coffee hour" following the average Episcopal mass. Why is this?
When one discerns for the ordained ministry in TEC, the entirety of one's life is picked apart, analyzed and judged as being worthy of recommendation to the bishop for ordination. Is it any wonder that those who pass the strictures of said processes often act if they are somehow superior to those not "in the club"? Likewise, those who are rejected are often broken and many even leave the church, permanently. I'm not advocating a doing away with discernment processes etc, etc, as they do have a purpose. I am advocating a return to the simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus passed a fishing boat one day, He said to the men working, "Come. Follow me." He didn't say endure the Spanish Inquisition and then maybe I'll think about letting you follow me.
I say all this because when I recently asked someone in a position of power on one of these committees where, aside from the empirical evidence gathered, what spiritual means of discernment were being employed for the selection of candidates. The answer I received was at best ambiguous.
It appears to me that many in the TEC are what one would call the bourgeois of society. Typically, well to do, highly educated, with a nice space of insulation from the broader more real oppression, suffering, hunger and injustice facing our world. Not everyone in TEC, but many.
If you don't fit the profile, your ignored. The instances of snobbery and cliquishness I have encountered in a number of parishes in TEC is enough for the average Joe to start running for the nearest exit.
Often in the Christian church its like the parents eating its own offspring.
After centuries of harm done in the name of God its time for the healing and reconciling work of Christ to begin. It is by the grace of God, that many faithful remain, putting up with political and religious clichés, feigned spirituality from the church's ministers and general lack of real meaningful interaction and dialogue between the congregation and clergy.
Is it any wonder people aren't beating down our doors to join the church?
Jump through hoops and then maybe we'll consider you is not the message of Jesus Christ. The message that I know is come to me ALL who are heavy burdened and I will refresh you.
Is it any wonder there is such a decline in "mainline" denominations?
I adjure you remain, you prophets, you who aren't afraid to be countercultural, you who would stand up in the face of hypocrisy and legalism. God is calling us All to be His body. It is up to us to answer that call.
What do you think? My own sense is that we frequently ordain people who are clearly individuals of integrity on a deep spiritual journey, but who do not excel in enough of the things that a parish priest must do to actually help the church to thrive. Yet they are willing to serve, and that counts for a great deal.
How would you revise the ways in which we nourish and discern vocations?