However, we also have a mid-week Eucharist with laying on of hands for healing. That service is at 7 AM. It's much more difficult to get someone who is ordained to cover that service.
In the past and "in a pinch" we have had one of the Licensed Eucharistic Ministers (LEM) lead the Service of the Word, doing the readings and then offering a short meditation - either one s/he has written or something written by someone else.
After the Prayers of the People, the Confession (with group absolution) and the Peace, the congregation gathers round the Altar to say the Lord's Prayer, and then Eucharist is distributed by the LEM from Reserved Sacrament. A closing prayer is said, and then prayers and laying on of hands for healing is done.
The entire service takes no more than 45 minutes. There have been as many as ten people in attendance, but there are four people who have been faithful attendees at this service for over 20 years. They could no sooner go through the week without this service as leave the house in the morning without brushing their teeth or combing their hair.
There is nothing "illegal" in terms of the canons of the church in having an LEM lead the service. It's official term might best be described as "irregular".
The rubrics of the Prayer Book say that "In the absence of a priest, all that is described above (The Service of the Word), except for the blessing, maybe said by a deacon, or, if there is no deacon, by a lay reader." ("Additional Directions", BCP, p 407)
The 'preferential option', however, is always for the ordained. Only .... "In the absence of sufficient deacons and priests, lay persons licensed by the bishop according to the canon may administer the Chalice." (p 408).
However, also on p 408, the rubrics are very clear that "When the services of a priest cannot be obtained the bishop may, at discretion, authorize a deacon to distribute Holy Communion to the congregation from the reserved Sacrament in the following manner. ."
There follows a carefully scripted piece on how the Eucharist is to be distributed by the deacon, in the absence of a priest or bishop.
Here's my question: Why?
I'm not asking a theological question. I understand Church history. I think I've got a pretty good handle on liturgics.
I'm asking a very pragmatic question: Why?
Christian Century magazine has an excellent article entitled, "Called But Not Ordained: the need for lay pastors." It's not online yet, but I suspect it will in a few short weeks.
The article is primarily about the dilemma in the "mainline Protestant denominations" - specifically, the Methodist and Presbyterian and UCC churches - where there are educated and well trained "lay pastors" who preach and pastor and function as the administrator of small churches, and the prejudice they encounter in terms of compensation as well as attitudes.
Here are a few interesting, provocative quotes:
"The rise of lay ministers makes us rethink the distinction between clergy and laity. How does one become a pastor? Is it by laying on of hands? Or by carrying out certain work? Protestant theologies, in particular, struggle to answer such questions. Many churches hold in tension bot a "functional" view of ordination (based on an actual call) and a "sacramental" view (a lifetime vocation). The functions of licensed ministers and ordained ministers can be identical, so it's curious that Protestant churches distinguish between them when in their own traditions ordination is not officially a sacrament."It gets a little more complicated in The Episcopal Church - "neither Protestant nor Catholic". We DO have and believe in The Sacraments (Baptism, Holy Eucharist) and the five Sacramental rites of the church - ordination being one of them.
And yet, we have six licensed ministries: pastoral leader, worship leader, preacher, catechist, eucharistic minister and eucharistic visitor.
Licensed ministers are not considered clergy and do not administer the sacraments themselves, although some may be licensed to help serve the Eucharist. preparation for some offices, such as eucharistic minister, can be done at the local level; preachers, however, require much more substantial education. The Episcopal Church does not keep statistics at a national level on its lay ministers. Anecdotally it appears that the practice may be increasing in rural dioceses.Dean Wolfe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, is quoted in the article as saying of the six licensed lay ministries, "We couldn't do our work without them."
Kenneth L. Carter, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity and a retired UMC bishop acknowledged that the Protestant dilemma began centuries ago with the apostolic line of succession was broken. "There is a very definite trend toward use of nonordained persons," he says, "Our need is trumping our ecclesiology."
"Polity is always contextual," says Dwight Zscheile, an Episcopal priest who teaches at Luther Seminary. "We had this idea, born out of corporate America, that you could standardize the training of clergy and employ them like interchangeable parts - give them a standard middle-class salary and benefits package and move them around as needed. But many churches can't support that anymore."
The article concludes,
"Clergy are at once 'set apart' and 'representative'. Their role, distinct from that of the laity, represents the church's distinctive function in a secular society. An elision of laity and clergy portends an elision of church and society - a truly terrifying prospect for some. But it may not be so terrible if the church develops homegrown leaders with a full commitment to unglamorous churches that just ask to be loved."Loved? Yes. I would add, "fed."
Ms. Conroy says that more and more churches are going to be employing 'lay pastors'. That, in fact, clergy are going to become more and more unaffordable.
Really, I asked. When do you see this happening?
Ten years, she said. In the next decade, clergy running congregations full time will be the exception. The church will look very, very different than it does now, she says.
I have no doubt. It's already looking very different at the local level where our need is already trumping our ecclesiology.
What do you think? Is ministry being redefined in our midst and the church is just catching up with it? Should we allow our present cultural financial crisis be the basis of the change for ecclesiology?
Is that short-sighted? Is the picture much larger? Or is the current trend speaking to us of a movement of the Spirit? A rebirth, or reformation of the church?
And, what about the issue of compensation and the prejudice encountered by lay pastors all around the country in every denomination from the Roman Catholic Church to the United Church of Christ? How do we determine compensation for ecclesiological acts and functions? Should there be compensation? Should there ever have been a system of compensation for sacramental ministry?
I know this much to be true: I will continue to search for mid-week clergy coverage for me while I'm on vacation, but, if it doesn't happen, I know that little community that has met every Wednesday morning for at least the past 25 years will continue to gather at the church to pray with each other.
I expect them to be a vehicle of healing and hope for each other. Be inspired by the Word. Be fed by the Sacrament.
What else would I expect from a community that has gathered for a quarter of a decade to care for each other and the world?
There will always be Bread.
It has been promised.