My friend and teacher, the Rev. Dr. D. Jay Koyle teaches that identity and worship is connected with belief and choice. We make decisions for our personal piety and liturgical acts from a place of understanding the purpose behind the choice. Much of our tradition is inherited through piety and local custom, rather than historical participation or expectation. So there are many different pieties and many different practices. The ones you choose have to make sense to you.
The same applies to title and sense of order in the church. In class, we were encouraged to explore and decide for ourselves what the different markers of identity mean and how they fit us. In my own vocation, I have found them all lacking.
This won’t surprise some of you. After all, I am the one who argued that there are only two people in the world who have a real right to call me their father.
And maybe dealing with these honorifics and distinctions are a purely Anglican thing. Most denominations have a consistent approach and behavior toward its leadership. For them, the holy orders are, well, ordered.
Anglicans try to play in all the sandboxes. We aren’t purely Protestant or Catholic. We find great common theology and history with our Orthodox friends. And since the birth of the Charismatic movement, many Anglicans have found ways to allow this movement to influence the church. We sometimes adopt a pretty kitchen sink approach to our theology.
Our problem, however, is that the church never fully embraced a distinction between pastor and priest, and especially since the 19th Century, this has been a problem. Because, just like my kitchen sink, I find myself doing a whole lot more dishes when there’s more than just one me.
I can’t even begin to know what the word Pastor evokes for you. I’d love to hear what you think.
I can tell you what it evokes in me.
I think of George Herbert. I think of a country parson who wanders around and is present at everybody’s everything. He (and in this model, it is always a he) is at your child’s birth and your son’s football games and band concerts and cooking the church ham for the Christmas dinner and crying with you at the loss of your parent and somewhere along the line fits in time to read Scripture and watch Masterpiece Theater. And, given this Anglican tilt, drinks gin.
The pastor isn’t the scholar or the knowledgeable one by modern standards, but the one in the community who can actually read and write and received schooling. He wasn’t just on the board of the hospital, but actually delivered some babies and is consulted by the mayor about important matters facing the town. The pastor’s place is not superhuman, but sort of ultimate human. Not Superman but Batman.
In the old model, the pastor wasn’t much of a preacher because he didn’t have time for that. Nor was he up on scholarship. No time for that. What with the delivering babies and working the farm.
The modern pastor is very different in action, but perhaps not so in temperament. You may disagree, of course. And it certainly depends on one’s tradition. For many, less than 20 hours spent preparing a sermon is mistreating the congregation. Preaching and teaching is service to the community. And yet, that sense of personal connection, of being there, being everywhere for the people is still present.
What the word priest evokes in me is holy orders and holy sacraments. I think of commitment and wearing collars. I think of representing and giving strangers hope. Ritual, relationship, honor.
But mostly I think of the Eucharist.
For me, the priest is a connector not to the nebulous understanding of things holy, but to sacraments: to the vehicle by which we can know the holy. I think of Baptism and Eucharist. I think of marriage and unction and reconciliation.
The priest, then isn’t the vision herself, but the marker of the vision. She helps show you the way from where you are to where GOD might be waiting for you. She may be in the world but not of the world. And she may be in the world, of the world, and taking us beyond this world.
We often think of the priest as having magic hands and blessing people and stuff. And many still hold to that. In that case, the priest is more like Superman and not Batman.
If we understand blessing as GOD’s and the priest’s role in community as curating the gathering, inviting people in to gather at the table with us, then the priest is neither Superman nor Batman. She’s more like Robin. A human sidekick, learning and training. And maybe she’ll strike out on her own and become Nightwing. Who knows? [Maybe we don’t invest too much into that analogy.]
Pastor, Priest, Prophet, or Poet?
This summer at the Wild Goose Festival, Bruce Reyes-Chow presented a model of understanding leadership as seekers of justice based closer to our personality types: how we serve and are most comfortable, rather than what our tradition actually tells us. He expands the conversation beyond Pastor and Priest to also include Prophet and Poet.
This slide show is from a presentation he made last year:
Justice Seekers: Prophets, Priests, Pastors, Poets
He describes them this way:
- The Prophet is the Activist – “Speaks truth to power often taking it to the streets.”
- The Priest as Academic – “Through research and study, lifts up histories of injustice while challenging historic ways of assessing and addressing injustice.
- The Pastor as Amalgamator – “Relationships, conversation and graciousness are key to reconciliation.”
- The Poet as Artist – “Through creative expressions, expands our understanding of injustice and how to respond”.
My initial response was that I felt like all four naturally fit me, and that my church pushes me to adopt all four.
I also recognized the very struggle that Anglicans have in differentiating priest and pastor means that I often feel as if I have two completely different sets of job descriptions for the same vocation. Two different identities with different sets of functions. Maybe it is like being bivocational or someone with two jobs. And maybe its more like having two identical jobs with the same employer and everyone else thinks its one and the same job.
Then again, of the four, I am vocationally both the priest and pastor, dabbling in the prophet who, at the core of his being is a poet. So…there’s that.
As a leader in the church, how do I see myself? How do I see my ministry? How do I function in the community?
How do I see the orders in the church? The ordained or the chosen and elected leaders: the professional and bivocational pastors and priests and prophets and poets. How do we put them into our models for leadership?
What are our expectations? Take a sheet of paper and list them. All of them. What do I want out of my lead pastor or priest? What do I want him to be like? What do I expect her to do? What is her very personality? What does he look like?
What are the top 3 expectations: the most essential to me? If the list has many more than three, then whittle it down to three. Make hard choices. If there are only 3 or 4, then think harder. Make a list that has 10-15 before beginning. It needs to be hard. Bring the expectations down to three.
What are those three? What is central to me in leadership? What is central to the work and the vocation? What does that really look like?
What did I cross out? What must I throw away to get real about my expectations for our leaders? What must I do to make my understanding more honest to my beliefs?
If I am a priest or a pastor (or a prophet or poet), what would it be to pick one and only one? What would it be to understand how that might affect my community or ministry? What would it be to claim that identity and teach those around me why being more “me” makes me a better me?