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Friday, July 16, 2010

Redefining Ministry

Thanks to Dave Walker
In a few weeks, I'll be on vacation the month of August. I have sacramental coverage for each of the four Sundays I will be away - someone who is ordained who will preach and preside.

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.


Elaine C. said...

I always learn from the laity. The lay pastoral care team and many other folks in the parish know more than I do. At the same time, there are things I learned in CPE and seminary that are very much needed in parish ministry. To have part-time, lay-led congregations, training needs to be delivered in a different way. Three years of high tuition, move to campus away from your regular life education is impossible to justify for lay leadership.

June Butler said...

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.

I agree. Our rector is retiring in less than a year. We will, very likely, not hire an interim, to save the cost. We'll make do with supply priests because the church budget has a big hole in it. We borrow from our endowment, which is not a large amount, and pay the money back the next year, only to borrow again.

Will we be able to afford a full-time priest? I don't know. What will happen if we can't? Again, I don't know.

Our budget shortfall is in the exact amount of the cost of health insurance for the rector and his wife, which goes up each year. Of course, we want to provide health insurance for our rectors and their families. We shall see.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I don't know if having a full time priest really ought to be the goal, you know? I mean, I think, in some ways, having a FT priest takes away from the sacramental ministry of all the baptized. Maybe the Spirit is pulling us back into the future of the church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine - I'm not sure a fancy-schmancy seminary education is all its cracked up to be. I think I'd rather have a mature Christian with some solid experience under her/his belt who has good instincts and a heart for Jesus.

JimB said...

I think either a lot of vocational deacons or licensed laity are definitely in the future. We simply do not have the assets for the priest-in-every-town model.

Actually, I expect that we will see both, a rise in vocational deacons and a rise in lay licensees. At some point we have to ask if that makes sense or if when you license someone to both preach and preside at some services if you do not really have a deacon?

I am formerly licensed in several categories. I surrendered the licenses years ago and I am glad that I no longer have them. And that leads to a major difference, ordination does not go away the same way licenses do. We will need to take probable turn over into account.



Matthew said...

I believe that its probably better for a lay person to distribute the reserved sacrament than a deacon. The deacon should be in the world. I'm not sure there is anything in diaconal training that would better prepare a deacon for the role than a licensed lay person.

As for compensation, many dioceses using total or mutual ministry have long stopped paying clergy except for the few full time rectors. This relates to a blog post from a few years ago about No. Michigan. In my diocese, the vast majority of ordained priests are non-stipendiary. said...

If my experience holds, what we will see is the "paid professional" ordained clergy still leading in the way bishops lead but with much local parish work done by well educated lay leaders. With many thousands of EfM graduates and a few thousand lay persons with considerable theological school training, there is no lack of competent talent. Sorting the competent from the incompetent is something the churches have not wanted to do for clergy- competition reasons but they will or they will continue to shrink with fewer and fewer jobs for clergy of all ranks. The churches that get it right will see a blossoming of membership from all that pent up but largely suppressed pool of educated and talented lay people. I'm a well educated and experienced computer engineer but if you want to use a computer or even write an "app", you don't need my permission. At some point, though, you will ask for my leadership and consultation if you get deep enough into this work. The churches have generally ignored that trend in first-world societies. Professionalism is highly valued but not if by force of rules designed to create artificial monopolies.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I wonder, Jim and Matthew - is this just cynicism born of the times or an accurate prediction of the future? I'm sure I don't know, but I have to ask the question.

In the long run, do we need priests? Or, is it that we just don't need so many of them?

And, if we don't need priests, do we need bishops?

Do we need ordination at all?

susankay said...

As I said somewhere else, my experience is that best priests don't believe they are called to INVOKE God's presence at the Eucharist, they believe they are called to invoke the parish's ATTENTION to God's presence.

After all, what was said was that "when two or three are gathered..." NOT "I really think we need Apostolic Succession"

Can the laity do that? Some of us. Surely not all of us. Sadly, that is also true of priests.

Hate to lose mine, however.

Muthah+ said...

I have only been retired a month so I am not out of the loop that long. The concern I have is that in the priest-less locals that try to maintain the church's presence there is a paucity of understanding of what church means. I see people trying to keep up with what it means to "do Church" but few being confronted with what it means to Be Church. By that I mean learning the hard stuff of loving one another and impacting the world around them with that love. I see, instead,the desire to keep up the appearance of Church with little of the real desire that the love of God transform them.

Church is about transformation because the whole message of Christ is transformation. The problem is that I see so little desire for doing the hard work of change.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I have to agree with you, Muthah, on your main point. Where we disagree is that I think clergy have been more a part of the problem than many of us are willing to admit.

Anonymous said...

This is a sad post. I suppose I am one of the snobs you mentioned. I want an ordained priest at church. I want someone that has received more schooling/education than I have to lead me. I mean really why go otherwise? I can keep the Sabbath Holy. Our church just left a non-ordained priest in charge while our priests took a vacation. I went to another church during that time period. Yes, I sent in my pledge to my church and gave at the other one too. But I am wondering if I should reduce my pledge to give that money to anotheer church in case this happens again. I suppose you think this is horrible. But is it people like me that keep the priests employed. Someone must stand up for quality & education.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for signing your note, Maria. Yours is a sad, difficult truth to tell, but I'm glad you told it. You are not alone, I think, in the church. There are many like you. Which is part of why the rapidly approaching inevitability of the realities of change will be so painful. It's not going to be pretty.

Matthew said...

A bit of a response. I do think we need priests, but we can ask: do they need to go to seminary? can they go to seminary online? can they be locally trained? can they come from the congregation? can it be a volunteer ministry? do they need to get paid? Maybe for a smaller church, it need not be full time work so either they don't get paid or get paid a small stipend but keep their day job? A movement to think along these lines started in Alaska, No Michigan and Nevada in the 1970's to provide priestly ministry in rural areas and that is why most priests in my diocese are not paid and most have never been to a seminary.

That said, however, just saying that we do still need priests it not the whole answer because the second piece of the puzzle is to re-imagine or re-fashion the role of priest such that lay people have more powers and responsibilities. If you are not going to pay a priest and they are not going to go to a seminary, even in a small rural congregation they are not going to be able to perform all the tasks that a paid vicar would do. So, you need licensed lay preachers, licensed lay pastoral care givers, worship leaders, etc. And deacons. In fact, I would argue that it does not really make sense to ordain a lcoally trained priest without all these other lay ministries in place. There are lots of ways to structure it, but you might have a "ministry team" with locally trained priests, deacons and lay licensed people who make the work of the church happen.

This model will not work for every church. Some churches want a rector who does lots of things. Some laity will not want the commitment they have to make to pull it off. Lastly, its not a panacea. Lay people get burned out. Some locally trained priests get sick of it after years without getting paid. Some things fall through the cracks because no one will do what needs doing because everyone is too busy with other ministries. Of course, the seminary trained ordained paid priest model is not a panacea either!!!!! Its something for a parsish to discern. And, I know plenty of paid rectors that don't want to give up their pulpit to allow a lay person to preach on a regular basis. Lots to chew on and sorry for such a long response.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Matthew. Thanks to everyone who has commented. Much to consider.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, thank you for your thoughtful post and all who commented in the thread. The time is upon us to begin thinking and discussing the future of the church with full time priests as the exception, rather than the rule.

Elizabeth, of course, as we begin the search for a new priest in my church, I will pose the question as to whether a full-time priest should be our goal, but I already know that a part-time priest will be a hard sell to many in the congregation. The vestry will have a tough time of it to persuade the congregation if, indeed, the decision is made that we cannot afford a full-time priest. As some see it, there's a kind of legitimacy conferred on a congregation with a full-time rector.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I hate to say it but I think it has to start with the bishop's office. The paradigm has to change. We have to start talking about it as "Mutual" or "Shared" Ministry. WY and NV have had this for some time. MI has also used this model to great success. If the theology - and affirmation - start at the top, the success of the model is much greater.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, once again, I agree. If the bishop "nudges" the vestry and the congregation to face reality, all the better. We'll know in a year or so.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading these kinds of discussions for decades. They always end inconclusively; one size does not fit all.

I spent three years in an EFM-type training program, parish-based, then a year at General Seminary in an intense, 16 hours-a-day lay ministry program. After two years of inner-city mission work I was commissioned an evangelist with a national preaching license, which I still hold.

I have always been discriminated against by some members of the clergy. They say they want skilled, committed, educated laypeople - but not TOO skilled, committed or educated, or then the clergy feel threatened, so they marginalize the lay ministers in order to control them. "This is your little playpen here."

I don't worry about their respect, I create my own ministry. At rare times I regret not having certain sacramental powers, but I also have much more freedom than the ordained ministers. I could tell the Bishop to eff-off and there's nothing she can do to me.

All in all the tradeoff works okay most of the time. (Not that I would ever tell +Cate to eff-off!)

Josh Thomas

Anne said...

I think we need priests. I think we need an empowered, called, and trained laity. I think we need to rethink our church structures. Some respondents have mentioned "mutual ministry" and "shared ministry", and noted that some dioceses such as No. Michigan are using that model to great effect. For an introduction to the Total Ministry model, look at (my sister's and my website). This model of "doing church" leverages both the knowledge of the seminary-trained priest and the experience and knowledge embodied in the local congregation. This is not a panacea. This is not a quick fix. However, it can be implemented within the ten-year horizon stated here, if one starts the process now!!

Ann said...

Wyoming has had good success with locally called and ordained clergy and strong lay leaders in our small churches in small towns (think a couple hundred pop.). The key is a strong discernment process - taking the time needed to see who has the various charisms. Short cuts end up with trouble. It is not the answer for all places but I hope it continues with our new bishop.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Discernment - careful discernment - is absolutely essential. It must be done in community. In that sense, I think we have much to learn from the Quakers. Parker Palmer's "Let your life speak" has been invaluable in that area, for me.

Paul said...

Too often, discernment applies only to the ordained ministry. We need a discernment process for all of our ministries, whether that is a formal process or otherwise.

Unfortunately, our ministry model of Bishops, Priests and Deacons is rooted in a midieval time when the laity were illiterate and suitable only for giving money and being led about like sheep. Things have changed a lot since then, but the church hasn't.

There are reasons for that, of course. Many laity prefer it that way, since it is a lot less work. (My mother warned me that, if you speak up in church you are usually rewarded by being put on a committee.) Many clergy prefer it that way because they like the control. We need a model in which we acknowledge each others gifts and use them with less attention to labels and collars.

Personally, I appreciate the education our priests receive. I hope the church starts to think seriously about making that education more affordable. The tuition charged is unjustifiable given the pay rate at the finish line. If we don't address that problem, we will be considering far more radical changes than those discussed here.

Lisa Fox said...

This is a marvelous, thought-provoking post, Elizabeth. I started to put my comments here, but they grew way too long. So I've posted my reflections at my own blog here.

This is a wonderful discussion. Thanks for launching it. I am open to learning and to having my mind changed.