Independent Catholic Christians share a common baptismal vocation with other Christians, and IC/OC clergy share a common diaconal or priestly vocation with other Christian clergy, particularly within the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox traditions. However, within those common vocations, there are also vocational differences based on the unique characteristics of theand of each jurisdiction within it.
One of the most obvious differences, which has a profound effect on how clergy live out their vocation, is the issue of bivocationalism. Most Roman Catholic and Orthodox clergy are paid full-time to be clergy, and although there are a number of non-stipendiary clergy in the, most parishes still operate on the model of being served by full-time paid clergy, and many dioceses which offer subsidies to parishes that cannot afford full-time clergy do so with the hope that the parish will grow financially to the point where it can support its own full-time clergyperson. Parishes that cannot afford a full-time priest are often downgraded to mission status, and are usually seen as “struggling” and, at the very least, not the norm.
In sharp contrast, the overwhelming majority of IC/OC communities are very small and have no realistic hope of ever being able to pay a full-time clergyperson (or own a building, but that is another discussion). Most people who are ordained in our movement will never be able to support themselves through ministry, and the overwhelming majority of the less than 1% who do will either do so through a chaplaincy job or through a wedding ministry and NOT through parish ministry. Most IC/OC priests (and bishops) will be “worker priests”. Almost all IC/OC parish communities will rely on the ministry of worker priests. (Yes, I know about Spiritus Sancti in Rochester, NY, and I’m sure there are a tiny handful of others for which this is not true, but it is true and always will be for the overwhelmingly vast number of IC/OC priests and communities – trust me on this!)
I point this out not to claim that either the “mainstream” (for lack of a better word) or the “indie” model is better or more right or anything of the sort – there are wonderful clergy and communities, average clergy and communities, and really dreadful ones in both models. Each model has advantages and disadvantages. The real point is to accept one’s lot and do the best one can to serve God given the particular circumstances in which one finds oneself.
But for those of us in the independent movement, it can be difficult to accept this lot. Almost all of us were raised in “mainstream” churches, and a large number of clergy have been in an ordination process, or a religious order, or a seminary in a “mainstream” church. (Of the 17 seminarians and clergy who have at one time or another been associated with the Mission John Plummer thinks these numbers are higher than the majority of jurisdictions, but regardless, most who seek ordination were originally members of mainstream churches of one kind or another.)of St. Michael & St. Timothy, the “diocese” I head, 13 were at one time in the ordination process in the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and/or ELCA denominations. Of the remaining 4, 3 were women raised in the Roman Catholic church who came to the IC/OC movement because the RC’s don’t ordain women, which leaves only one person who did not seriously consider ordination in a “mainstream” context first.
I raise this issue because most of us, having received our basic Christian formation and often, even our beginning formation as clergy from churches which assume full-time paid ministry as the norm, may find it difficult to let go of those expectations and instead focus on the expectations we should have. If we internalize, consciously or not, the idea that a “successful” priest has a large enough congregation to pay one’s salary and that a “real” church has a building of its own, we may be so overcome with shame that we are unable to minister to those God does send us. A large congregation with full-time staff and a building can engage in ministries we can’t – and we can offer an intense community life and can respond to individual needs much more readily than the large churches can. The important thing is for us to offer the sacraments and the liturgy to those who come to us, to the best of our ability, and to do the best we can to make Unitarian Universalist congregation, a Wednesday night service in the chapel I’ve made out of a spare bedroom (and a monthly Friday service in another chapel a parishioner has made out of a bedroom in his home), and a Tuesday night service that happens by phone conference.. In our community, we have a in a space rented from a
What are the opportunities we as worker priests have? First, although the demands of our secular job and home life are such that we don’t have the time to focus on church that some have, we are therefore forced to focus on the essentials. I sometimes find that I accomplish more when I have a short time to do something than when I have a long time – and it is no different here. Second, this situation demands collaboration in a way that can be lacking in larger churches. I cannot imagine how an indie church could function fully without at least two priests, and small communities demand more of the laity as well, who can be much more intimately involved than they may have opportunities to be elsewhere. (Certainly, large congregations often have lay involvement, but it is often a small core – and there is less opportunity to hide in a small church. Just ask the couple who joined us in procession and would have processed out to the car – had they not left their purses inside – and who foolishly came back a second week to find themselves being the entire congregation. They are now both heavily involved in the life of the parish, the jurisdiction, and in one case, the AIHM order.) A third opportunity is to share more fully the life that those we serve lead – we can understand the challenges and burdens they face, because we share them.
But we can only fully embrace these opportunities if we embrace our position as worker priests, and see it as a vocation from God, rather than seeing it as an obstacle to overcome.