The Nature of Ordained Ministry or Article III of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church: Whitterings, May 2006

Article III of III on the Present Ecclesiological Culture of the Anglican Church

The Nature of Ordained Ministry

The third aspect of the modern church which I wish to highlight as important is the seeming lack of focus about the actual nature of our ministry. The Strategic Planning Committee is currently working diligently on this issue so I will only examine one aspect of it which I do not believe is being fully addressed, the nature of ordained ministry. There seems to be great confusion around the idea of what a priest and a deacon are and what they are expected to do. Often it seems that every priest has a different idea of what the priesthood is. There is even more confusion surrounding the nature of the vocational deaconate as its revival is relatively new.

The concept of priesthood has changed dramatically since the early church and during different ages has emphasised different aspects of priestly ministry. For Canadian Anglicans the basis of our understanding of priesthood is enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Alternative Services includes an alternative service for ordination that differs in some of its emphasis.

The Priesthood according to the Book of Common Prayer

The BCP Ordination service understands the priesthood as a setting apart of someone who has been called by God to: be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; teach and to warn; provide for the Lord’s family; seek for the lost so they may be saved; forgive sins; preach; administer the Sacraments. In order to accomplish this ministry the BCP proclaims that the priest needs to: study with great care; be thankful to the Lord; pray earnestly for the Guidance of the Holy Spirit; shape ones life and one’s family to scripture and church doctrine; be studious in reading and learning the scriptures; forsake and set aside all worldly cares and studies; give himself wholly to this one great task and draw all cares and studies towards ministry; continue to pray to God; daily read and meditate upon the scriptures; endeavour from time to time to sanctify his life and that of his family; be a good example of the Christian life. To fulfil these things the ordinand promised the following things before their ordination: to instruct the people according to scripture; to faithfully minister the sacraments; to teach the people about the sacraments and doctrine of the church; to strive against all false doctrine and ideas; to use private and public warnings and strong direction as the need arises; to be diligent in prayer; to be diligent in reading holy scripture; to be diligent in study; to foster quietness, peace, and love among people; to obey church authority.

The Priesthood according to the Book of Alternative Services

In the BAS the Priest is described as being one: called to pastor; called to be a priest; called to be a teacher; called to take part in councils of the church; called to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel; called to fashion their life in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel; called to love and serve the people among whom they work; called to preach; called to declare God’s forgiveness; called to pronounce God’s blessing; called to preside at Baptism and the Eucharist. In the BAS candidates for the priesthood promises to: be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ in the ACC; obey the Bishop and other church authorities; to be diligent is the reading and study of scripture; to diligently seek the knowledge of such things as may make one a stronger minister; to administer the sacraments and teach and preach the Gospel with love; to labour to build up the family of God; to pattern their life and family to the teaching of Christ so as to be a good example; to persevere in prayer both publicly and privately; to ask for God’s grace.

You can see that the BAS is much more vague than the BCP on the nature and work of a priest. However, I put it to you that in taking these two ordination rites together there are certain things that describe the nature of the priesthood as understood by our Church. Implicit in the nature of the priesthood is the call to: discern the truth with the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Church and teach it; be administrators of Christ’s Sacraments; love and care for others. The duty of a priest is to: teach and warn the people of God; to study scripture, theology, and the world in which we live; to pray; to be a good example to others; to administer the sacraments; to obey and be loyal the church hierarchy; take part in the councils of the church. The disciplines of a priest are to be: be passionate and committed to the work and life of a priest; to pray daily; to study scripture daily; to study regularly; to regularly examine their life.

The Deacon according to the BCP and the BAS

The BAS reflects a much deeper understanding of the deaconate that has arisen in recent years. It is quite similar to the early church understanding of diaconal ministry and stems from Acts 6.2. The nature of the deacon is that of servanthood. The duties of a deacon are to serve liturgically and pastorally with a special emphasis on the weak, the poor and the ill. The disciplines of a deacon are to: faithfully read and study Holy Scripture; faithfully pray; and to seek to discern Christ in all people.

This is a long summary of the theological basis of our Church’s understanding of ordained ministry. There are many different models of ordained ministry that can be supported by these ordination rites, especially for the priesthood. Some emphasise the priest’s kerygmatic role (proclamation or preaching) such as Karl Rahner and Benedict XVI. Some emphasise the cultic or sacerdotal theology of priesthood such as Otto Semmelroth or John Paul II. Some emphasise the community leadership of the priesthood such as Thomas O’ Meara and Robert Schwartz. All are consistent with the ordination rites. All of these emphases are personal and every priest would have their own ideas that they would like to see more emphasis placed upon.

The Priest as Seeker and Discerner of Truth

Placing personal biases aside there are certain aspects of the priesthood (there is not enough room to treat the deaconate and the priesthood equally) that are to be held as given by all priests and their congregations. Some of these aspects of the priesthood need to be re-emphasised today. The Anglican Church of Canada, in common with other Anglican Churches, sees the priest as a discerner of truth and a teacher of it. The basis for the exploration of truth is consistent, disciplined regular study of scripture, theology, and knowledge of the world that will help to make sense of Gods work in creation. It is stressed that all study and reading should be for the discernment of God. The idea is similar to that of Kierkegaard's passage from the ascetical sphere into the ethical sphere. The priest is to make sense of the world, the human situation, and ways to react and live faithfully today. Certainly there is no other profession or vocation today that has as one of its main purposes to search for meaning for the wider community. For example, a priest should be able to make theological sense of the rise of blogging on the internet by our young or the popularity of reality TV and have something to teach about it. After studying and wrestling with truth and meaning the priest is then to teach the community at large through preaching, bible study, teaching about the sacraments and the purpose of the church, and private and public warning about danger and false ideas.

The Priest as Sanctified by Prayer

Another aspect of priesthood that needs to be re-emphasised is the duty and privilege to have a disciplined, daily time of prayer and meditation upon scripture. It is the foundation upon which all the rest of ministry is based. Remember John Wesley’s famous quote reminiscent of Saint Augustine’s:

“I have so much to do daily that I must spend several hours in prayer to be able to do it.”
In 1930 Evelyn Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, about the state of the clergy in the Church of England. She claimed that they lacked a substantial interior life. That their lives were not based on prayer and study.

“The church wants not more consecrated philanthropists but a disciplined priesthood of theocentric souls who shall be the tools and channels of the Spirit of God: and this we cannot have until Communion with God is recognised as the first duty of the priest. We look to the Church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness and prayer…We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experience of the life of prayer. Their Christianity as a whole is humanitarian rather than theocentric, so their dealings with souls are often vague and amateurish. I know that recovering the ordered interior life of prayer and meditation will be very difficult for clergy immersed increasingly in routine work. It will mean for many a complete rearrangement of values and a reduction of social activities. They will not do it unless they are made to feel its crucial importance. I venture to put before the conference the following practical recommendations: (1) Education of Ordinands--- That the bishops shall emphasize the need and importance of a far more thorough, varied, interesting and expert devotional training in our theological colleges which, with a few striking exceptions, seem to me to give insufficient attention to this vital part of their work. (2) The Clergy--- That they should call upon every ordained clergyman, as an essential part of his pastoral duty and not merely for his own sake: (a) To adopt a rule of life which shall include a fixed daily period of prayer and reading of a type that feeds, pacifies and expands his soul, and deepens his communion with God; b) To make an annual retreat; (c) To use every endeavour to make his church into a real home of prayer and teach his people, both by exhortation and example so to use it."

It seems to me that her plea is still important as it will be for every new generation. We need to be reminded not only that it is a duty but that it is a great gift. I read in the Church Times of March the 10th that the Bishop of Portsmouth, Kenneth Stevenson has made a recovery from acute myeloid leukemia. He describes his experience in an interview on the back page.
“Come hell or high water, I said morning and evening prayer every day. I remember once making myself put on clean pajamas, clean up, and read. It was not what I felt like, and a lot of the time it meant nothing, but the discipline was so important, and I depended on it. Sometimes I would have to stop if a doctor or nurse came in. It was one of the things that got me through, even on the days when I could barely see because of the chemotherapy.”

The church needs to re-examine and re-emphasise the duel nature of serious and disciplined prayer and study as the primary foundation of the priestly ministry of administrator of the Sacraments, teacher, and pastor.

I offer these reflections as part of the ongoing process to build up the church in this place. I have used this basic understanding of the priesthood and the deaconate to submit a paper to the Bishop’s Commission for the Discernment and Formation of Candidates for the Ordained Ministry. If you are interested, I would be more than happy to share it with you.