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>A priesthood without clericalism

A priesthood without clericalism

From A Love that Dares to Question A Bishop challenges his church
by Bishop John Heaps
Published by Canterbury Press, 2001. pp. 98-103,
Published on our website with the authors permission

The sacrament which has the most profound effect on the constitution, the function, and the effectiveness of the Church, is the sacrament of Holy Orders. All Christ's faithful people are baptized into Christ—priest, prophet and king—but the ordained Christian receives these gifts in a way that enables him to act in the person of Christ in a specific and necessary way to make the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist possible. It is for this reason and for the passing on of this gift that the Sacrament of Holy Orders is so vital in the life of the Church. Christians may meet to pray, be of mutual help and support to each other, and to be a force for social justice; but an element essential to the full meaning, strength and life of the Christian community is the Eucharist.

In places where there has been a dramatic fall in those seeking to serve their fellow Christians as priests, we have been looking at ways to function as the church without the service of the full time, resident priests we have been accustomed to. The priest I learned to be was one who was celibate lived in a presbytery with at least one other priest was available at any time of the day or night - except for one day was spent in recreation with other priests and family. This priest was minister of the sacraments| and preacher, but also adviser and guide in all manner of life situations. He would eventually become financial and business manager of the temporal goods of the Church.

We have discovered that there are other ways of of doing things, and people other than the priest who can do them better. In the best of parishes responsibilities have been shared and consultation is seen as vital to decision-making. This does not problem of the declining number of priests nor does it address the fact that the priest is mostly on his own now in the presbytery, the only full time job at all times, the one who is most readily available in any emergency, the one confronted with everything from tragedy to trivia.

It is possible to have an ordained ministry without the requirements the Church has attached to ordination. Two of the things that have inhibited the full life of a the members of the participants in Christ's ministry are the over-emphasis on the role of the ordained ministers and their separate, very distinctive lifestyle. The church, and at times, society, made the separation very clear. In the Church there were clergy, religious and laity and the first, second and third estates in society. Special dress, lifestyle and laws, made it clear to the faithful that the position of the large body of Church members was at best second-rate. I do not believe that Jesus ever meant things to be this way.

There were certainly people called by Jesus, and appointed by the Church later, to accept special responsibilities, but all were called to serve with equal dignity and respect for each other. "You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This must not happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:42-45). This is the charter that Jesus gave for service in is Church. It is not only about service, availability and hard work. It is about the whole style of authentic Christian leadership. "The slave to all" does not call the tune to which his master dances. The slave listens to the master, is careful to know the master's will and to satisfy the master's needs. The whole body of Christ, with all its members, is both master and servant at different times and in different ways.

It is clear also that there is no distinction in rank or in respect for any servant of the community. As ministries developed, it seemed to be necessary to make this clear to the Church. The body of Christ is not only part of the body, but the whole body with all its members and all their gifts. St Paul found it necessary to remind the Corinthians: "Nor is the body to be identifed with any of its parts. If the foot were to say, 'I am not a hand and so do not belong to the body,' would that mean that it stopped being part the body? If the ear were to say, - I am not an eye and so I do not belong to the body,' would that mean that it was not part of the body? If your whole body was just one eye, how would you hear anything?" (ICor. 12:16-17), Then he continues: "What is more, it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones" (1 Cor. 12:22).

It is interesting to observe that when he names the different gifts, he does give them an order the first being apostles, but later coming as separate gifts, are teachers, prophets and good leaders. "Now you together are Christ's body, but each of you is a different part of it. In the Church, God has given the first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers; after them, miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers and good leaders, those with many laanguages. Are all of them apostles, or all of them prophets, or all of them teachers? Do they all have the gift of miracles or all of them teachers? Do all speak strange languages, and all interpret them?" (ICor, 12,27-30).

Marital state or gender seems to have nothing, essentially, to do with the matter of who is more capable of any service to the Church or of any position of responsibility.

How did we ever conclude that all of these gifts should or could be contained in the one human being? That we did seem to come to this conclusion and to work from it has been to the suppression of the many and varied gifts that God invested in the whole body of his Church.

Perhaps it is the very next verse of this letter to the Corinthians that can bring about the change necessary for us to have a Church alive with the gifts of its many members: verse 31 of chapter 12: "Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them." Then chapter 13 begins with St Paul's eulogy to love: "If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing" are the opening words to a piece of scripture which is the key to Christian service and Christian law-making for service.

No ministry is given as a personal privilege to the recipient. Each is called, not to be served, but to serve. It seems reasonable, therefore, that the requirements for accepting a ministry and for being accepted by the community, should be the requirements best suited to facilitate the service to be given. There is nothing intrinsic to the ministry of priest that requires one to be celibate or a full time person financially supported by the community.

Firm faith, a good moral life, a sense of responsibility to the local Church and the universal Church, a love of prayer, a knowledge of the liturgy, a sensitivity to others, an ability to communicate and a reliable, stable personality would be some qualities necessary for the ordained minister who would psesMf over the community gathered to offer the Holy Eucharist. Other ministries would have their special requirements. The preachers, teachers and catechists would need a more thorough knowledge of sacred scripture and theology. Counsellors and people preparing their fellow Christians for the sacraments of marriage and reconciliation would require different qualities and skills.

We might solve many of our problems if we began to create small Christian communities whose members served each other in their day-to-day needs for worship, prayer, study, listening and counselling, care for the sick and needy, solace for the bereaved, and involvement in addressing matters of justice and charity for the local community, their country and the world. Many of the ways I have proposed for getting closer to each other and to God can be seen as possible only in small, caring communities. In such communities, every member would be striving to be full time Christian and part time niinistei-v Bvety member would contribute in time^ taltnts and finance. Every member or family would wdrk to support themselves and to contribute to the financial needs of their worshipping community andof the wider Church, and to make some contribution to me needs of the poor.

Marital state or gender seems to have nothing, essentially, to do with the matter of who is more capable of any service to me Church or of any position of responsibility.

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