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More conversation from comments on The Lead

More conversation from comments on The Lead

There have been some very thoughtful comments lately on The Lead as we think about the future of the church. In addition to sincerely thanking those who have taken the time to read and respond, we thought it might be informative to look closely at some of the comments.

In the post “In renewing the Episcopal Church, what exactly is up for grabs?”, Jim Naughton wondered about the education of clergy, the cost of full-time priests, and what is it that we want our priests to do.

This led to this comment by Tom Sramek, Jr. (who writes “bloggingpriest“):

We pay clergy to do a substantial number of things that could easily be done by a (likely less expensive or volunteer) lay person. There’s administration (finance, etc…) up the wazoo, for example. There are property issues (Do you really need a priest to fix a toilet?). There are all kinds of things that fall more into the category of “business owner” than priest. If you get some time freed up in a priest’s schedule, then what do you want him or her to do with that? Thinking a little more creatively in this area might help. I’ve heard that one essentially needs clergy for the ABCs–Absolve (people of their sins), Bless (in God’s name), and Consecrate (elements for communion). What if we reinterpreted that to see pastoral care as the absolving part (not that laity can’t do it, but sometimes the collar is helpful), enabling ministry by motivated and excited laity as the blessing part (bless a program, initiative, or person and see what happens), and our worship (word and table) as the consecrating part? Anything that doesn’t fit into the healing, equipping, or feeding (spiritually and physically) parts can be someone else’s job.

What reactions do you have to Tom’s comment?


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Juan Oliver

I like Tom´s attempt at boiling down priestly work to pastoral care,

enabling ministry, and worship leadership, but I would mention some caveats:

First, let´s not kid ourselves about the availability of lay members to volunteer. Most can´t even if they want to. Second, depending on the size of the congregation, the three ABC´s –if done well and with integrity– might well take over 40 hours a week –without attending any meetings! Third, since most clergy do not have trust funds, they will have to be paid a living wage to do this.

Still, I for one do not understand how a priest with a parish of 50 needs 40 hours to do these ABC´s. That´s worth rethinking, whether it entails a) developing a canon that allows Bishops to close, merge or expand congregations like these regardless of how endowed they may be, and/or b)training clergy on how to graciously avoid having their life taken over by meetings –often devolving into power struggles.

Let´s face it. The Church of the first three centuries had nothing more than a presbyter (only if a bishop was not available), deacons, and a board (vestry-like). When these finally got stipends (after Constantine) they were in charge of congregations of up to 2-3,000 people! Deacons did the administering and most social outreach. So could ours, if we were willing to pay them, since these ARE full-time jobs.

Regardless of the tack we chose, some sort of professional training is necessary. –For everyone. In our anti-intellectual culture, it may actually be prophetic to expect at least bishops, deacons and priests to know what they´re doing and why.


While I have never seen clergy do maintenance work, what seems implicit in this discussion is that we have difficulty defining the role of clergy or measuring success; I suspect this comes in part with the territory.

All too often, clergy faces the challenge of addressing unlimited demand with limited means. Everyone wants their clergy at committee meetings and events, while expecting 24-hour access for pastoral care. At the same time, we expect clergy to take time off, to care for themselves, and to get enough rest and exercise. As a result, there are never enough hours in the day.

To Michael’s point about challenging laity, I agree that we undervalue the prophetic role of our clergy. Often, the expectation is that clergy avoid controversy, but at the end of the day, I’d rather be challenged than slip into an orthodoxy of banality.

Eric Bonetti


I find myself wondering about something a bit different. Granted, I’m in a position now that, for all that it is in chaplaincy, is explicitly administrative. With that in mind, I spend a good deal of time thinking about the theology of good administration. Let’s be clear: administration is not the ministry of one order or another. However, I think we need to think about administration and management as ministry before we decide whether or not it’s more appropriate to one order or another.

New in my position, I find myself reflecting on Fr. Benedict’s instructions to abbots, priors, and prioresses, and also those for the . It is a good model of leadership, and it’s also soundly supported from Scripture. Centrally, it is about enabling the ministries of others, and about discerning their vocations. Or, consider his instructions to the Cellarer. The day to day operations of the community are first and foremost about leading and modeling stewardship of what God has provided. Fr. Benedict appreciated what I have also experienced: unless the administration is done and done competently, many other things simply don’t get done.

In my experience, both clergy and laity participate in “clericalism.” And, watching in the congregation where I worship and in the many places I’ve supplied over the years, I see that a press from lay to clerical leadership is caused less often by clericalism than by the pressures of work in a poor economy and the overscheduling of children.

So, I think before we fret over who should or shouldn’t be supporting and supplementing the ABC functions with administration, we need to appreciate a theology of good administration, and an understanding that good management is a ministry in itself.

Marshall Scott

John D. Andrews

I like the idea of laity taking more responsibility for the running of a church. But, unless the priest gives up control, that won’t happen. In my experience over the years, priests giving up control is not normative.

Michael Russell

In the 1970s there was a move to break down the old dichotomy of Clergy do Spiritual, Laity do temporal. Laity moved more into spiritual and clergy (esp Bishops) became CEO’s.

In a voluntary association some one has to be the default go-to person. Clergy are there the most and so we invested both realms in them.

We should add “D” and “E” to ABCs and reappraise what clergy do. “D” for Discipling and “E” for OMG Evangelism!!!!

If we believe in total ministry then clergy’s job is to nurture and challenge laity who are the doers of ministry. So I’d push us back that way, perhaps even to thinking of several parishes jointly hiring a business manager to run the business aspect of the congregation under the Rector and Vestries supervision.

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