Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ordination: Consecration for Service, NOT Personal Validation

No one who is ordained enters ordained ministry for purely healthy reasons -- indeed, I doubt that any human being does anything for purely healthy reasons! But it is important to be aware of one's motives, and to live out the healthy ones in one's ministry and to take care not to let the unhealthy ones affect one's ministry adversely.

The proper motive for being ordained is consecration for the service of God and the people of God in particular ways, especially the ministries of Word and Sacrament. Unfortunately, many seek ordination instead as some form of personal validation. Wearing a collar and vestments gives them some sort of status so that they can feel important, or loved, or respected, or _____ (fill in the blank).

In particular, it has been my observation that some (certainly not all) who are members of groups historically denied access to ordination, especially women and openly gay and lesbian Christians, can sometimes see ordination as a validation that they are "as good as" men or heterosexuals. This is quite understandable, and as someone who unequivocally supports the ordination of women and openly gay/lesbian Christians and who am myself an openly gay man, I have certainly felt this way myself at times. And one unhealthy result is that many forget that no individual has a right to ordination -- I agree that it is an injustice to exclude women and lgbt folk from ordination, but there are individual women and individual gay people who should not be ordained (just as there are individual heterosexual men who should not be ordained).

For those of us who make our way to the Independent Sacramental Movement, we usually find that, to our dismay, most Christians don't really take us that seriously. Our churches don't usually fit the model of "brick and mortar" churches, and we lack the respectability of the mainstream. Many assume that because they haven't heard of us, we aren't "real". This problem is compounded by those of us who use the term "Independent Catholic", since most people accept the claims of the Roman Catholic denomination to be the only "Catholics". (While I would never want to give up the substance of being Catholic, as I see it, I do sometimes wish that we could let go of the word for just this reason.)

And in response to this, many of us in the ISM spend an inordinate amount of time trying to "prove" that we are legitimate, we are Catholic, we are real -- and for some of us, this gets wrapped up in issues of being female or gay. I've been there, so I am not criticizing something I myself haven't done. But, ultimately, this distracts from the reason we are clergy to begin with.

As long as we do the ministry God calls us to do, and minister to those (however few) God sends our way (and in some cases, priests may be called to a life of solitude and intercession for the world that won't involve much direct ministerial contact with others), we're doing the right thing. If everyone else laughs at us and refuses to see our minstry as valid -- that's okay. We're not priests to be recognized as such. If God sees our ministry as valid, who cares what others think? And if God doesn't see our ministry as valid, all of the people in the world calling us "Father" or "Mother" won't make a difference.

So I would exhort my fellow ISM clergy to stop worrying about what people think, and focus instead on the ministry tasks at hand. Until we move beyond the need for validation from others, we will never be effective priests.


Alexis TanĨibok said...

Great post Tim,

I would add that it is all too common - in our community especially - that people seek ordination not only for self validation, but also seeing ordination as a form of personal spiritual advancement, rather than as an answer to a call of service. I do not "own" my orders - I am merely a steward of the traditions and customs of my community.

It is true that there are far too many among our co-religionists who are ordained who should never have been allowed near a bishop's hands. Should we not be supporting one another - bishop to bishop, community to community in the process of sifting the chaff from the wheat?

If enough bishops & their communities banded together on the principal that we deserve to have good clergy, and good teachers and theologians, and that those who are not up to speck ought not have the easy option of simply jumping from bishop to bishop until she/he finds someone who will do the appropriate sacramental "zapping" simply because the "candidate" demands or desires it, then it is not unreasonable to think that our standard as a whole will improve, and our ability to cultivate the best pastors, theologians and leaders for our tradition will be strengthened? What is more if 20 communities and their bishops refuse ordain you because one refused that would I think have other positive effects within wider community. Oh, and it would make a very clear statement to one seeking ordination for personal gain/validation/agenda's as well as to a bishop who might seriously consider "ordaining" the individual.

There is no perfect solution - being in a faith tradition is messy regardless of the tradition - but we owe it to ourselves, and to those who will come after us to strive for the best.

John Plummer said...

Very well said, Tim. Can we just turn this into a tract and hand it out to everyone who asks about ordinatin?? :)

Lyngene said...


I'm always a little sad to see ISM priests who have so much doubt in the legitimacy of their ministry or vocation that the focus is on justifying it to the outside world rather than on serving the people God has sent them. As someone who isn't called to ordained life (a rarity in the ISM, I know :)), I'm acutely aware of the things only a priest can do in service to God and God's people.

If one's community needs one as a priest and doesn't question the legitmacy of one's vocation or ministry, then why does it matter so very much what anyone else thinks? Yes, it is hard to always be seen as "less than" by the mainstream in some ways, but the need for ISM priests to minister to those *not* in the mainstream is much too important to sacrifice to such a distraction.

The mandate is to find the lost, spread the good news, serve the poor, love. The mandate has never been to become "legitimate". There is more important work to be done.

The young fogey said...

Seconding Lyngene's 'Yes!'

Thought of all this today reading another ISM blog... saw all the classic vagante pathology (sorry to use that word but you know what I mean: largely imaginary church, inflated title) including 'collar lust' which is not a sexual fetish about clerical neckwear but simply the desire to be ordained mainly so one can show off. Or exactly why such people shouldn't be priests or ministers anywhere, indy or not.

If one actually ministers to at least a handful of real human beings regularly, ideally once a week, and is committed to that, one earns my respect whether I agree with the theology or not. Buildings etc. don't matter. Playing church at one's house when one feels like it then going places and on the Internet to showboat wearing clerics doesn't. (And I like tat: Catholic ecclesiastical rig!)

Rev. Sharon said...

I largely agree, but did want to comment that those of us who only have access to home churches right now (either because we cannot find a "building-established community" that will trust us to share their space, or whatever) are not "playing church", as was suggested by the wording of the comments by The Young Fogey (great blogname, BTW...)

I know I'm fixating on a small point, but it is the sort of point that could rapidly become a stumbling block and a means to argument where it needn't be. We all know people who focus on "dressing up and waving around", or who wear their clericals to make a point, be noticed, show off, etc.--but to tar all the home churches with a brush that seems to suggest if you "do church" that way you're somehow suspect would not be fair.

Perhaps if we divide the problem? It's not "doing church" at home that is the issue, but grandstanding in clericals (or however the problem manifests) that hurts us all. The "getting ordained for all the wrong reasons" disease, if you will. If we can get that straight, I'm good with it. :-)

But we must tread gently and compassionately nevertheless. Is a person a bad priest because the first thing they get excited about, in that new-love first flush of joy after ordination, is their new collar or vestment? Hardly. But if they have managed to finesse the ordination process somehow in order to gain validation, or feel better about themselves, or whatever--that will eventually trickle down to poor stewardship, causing someone to get hurt somewhere. Usually it's both the priest and the person to whom they are attempting to minister who get hurt--and it is our duty as Christians, much less as clergy, to minister to them both.

What it all boils down to, for my personal comfort level, is this: it's all about communication. Alexis says we should sift and support--and I completely agree. But that too must be applied with love. :-)

Ah well... most of us didn't come to this life because it was easy. We came to it because the Lord called and we went... and we hope he is with us all the way. (Waves hello to John and Tim...) Some good, thoughtful points here in response to a thoughtful post.

Lyngene said...

Hi Rev. Sharon-

I think you make an interesting point. I would suggest that "playing church" in one's home is different from "being church" in one's home. Young Fogey's wording is "playing church in one's home *when one feels like it*" suggests that for some, unfortunately, church and celebration of the sacraments for and with others is something done on a whim rather than as a deliberate, weekly practice open to all. I interpreted his words as a critique not on the setting in which one celebrates and worships, but on the lack of commitment to ministering in a regular way to whomever comes through the door for Mass--whether that is a door to a house or to a church building.

That being said, I also wanted to comment on the phrasing "*only* have access to home churches" which to suggests that many see home churches as inadequate in some way. I wish people, particularly those in the ISM, would get over that. One of the most powerful liturgies I ever attended was in a house church on Christmas. Four people, dead tired from doing Christmas Vigil the night before, a completely stripped down Mass, in the middle of a living room--the furthest away from smells and bells that you can get--was and still is the most amazing Christmas Mass I have ever attended. What struck me was that the people I was gathered with found their faith and the celebration of the sacraments so central to their lives that there was no separation from their daily lives and their faith. It completely blew me away. While many in religious life don't find this lack of separation between living one's faith and living one's daily life so surprising, it's a bit of a jolt for laity to experience---and I think one of the gifts in the ISM and in those with house churches is that this is something that we can share with others. It takes God and the sacraments out of the church building and places them in our daily lives and living space in a very physical and tangible way.

My one caveat with house churches is that I think it's difficult for many people who are new to the ISM to walk into a private home for Mass. So from a pastoral stand point, it's helpful to meet on more neutral ground, particularly when starting a new community. But this is a practical consideration. There are different reasons for meeting in different locations and each has it's gifts and it's challenges. One of my fondest wishes is that those in the ISM/OC/IC world would stop worrying that others outside the community perceive small communities, house churches, etc, etc, etc as less than. And instead those ISM/OC/IC folk start realizing the gifts that these qualities bring to those we minister to.

Rev. Sharon said...

Hi Lyngene, I take your points--and I completely agree that a lot of folks find it VERY hard to walk up to someone's home and be able to come in for church. Believe me, as soon as we are able--for that very reason!--we'll be moving to other space. Unfortunately the church we used to rent space in did not take us seriously; the pastor had post-service meetings in his office, which was accessed either from outside or through the space we were given for worship. I had six youngsters troop through, chatting happily, while I was elevating the Host--and I tried to be as compassionate as I could (and later was able to laugh about it!) when they waved to me and yelled "HI!" as if I wasn't *ahem* otherwise occupied. I guess I'm glad they are so relaxed with the sacraments... but I fear it was an occasion of sin for my congregation. :-) We left there shortly after, because the pastor did not see a problem where we did. Alas!

My comment about only having access to home church was just that: making note of the fact that at the moment, we only have that option open to us. I should have been clearer; I actually very much enjoy home masses, and when my folks ask for them I am happy to comply. After all, the sacrament we perform mirrors a meal between Jesus and his people. It was performed in a place normally reserved for the daily holiness of just plain living: a room not set aside for worship necessarily, but made available because of the constraints of the holy day and the needs of a group of believers who wished to participate. The parallels between the "Original Mass", if you will, and Mass at Home Nowadays is clear and beautiful.

Having said that... when one restricts ministry to the comfortable group that already knows one another, this works fine. It works, but with stumbling blocks, for building a church body... but in the end, if there's a place someone can look at and say "that's a church" it really is easier to bring in new friends and grow the group.

In any case, thanks for the thought-provoking dialogue! God bless!

Lyngene said...

Hi Rev. Sharon-

Sorry for the mis-read of your statements. Thank you for clarifying that.

Random youngsters strolling through and yelling "hi" during the Mass---the mind boggles.

Best wishes to you and your congregation on finding a better space and on your ministry!

The young fogey said...

Dear Revd Sharon,

I'd lost track of this conversation until Tim blogged more recently so I didn't see this until today.

First of all, regarding my screen name, thanks. Here's what it means.

Second, I never intended to 'diss' every church that hasn't got a building! That's why, before I wrote my criticism of ISM priests 'playing church... when they feel like it' (the main point) I wrote: 'Buildings etc. don't matter.'

You wrote:

Perhaps if we divide the problem? It's not "doing church" at home that is the issue, but grandstanding in clericals (or however the problem manifests) that hurts us all.

That's much of what I was trying to say. Lyngene understood. We agree.