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.