Thursday, July 14, 2011

"doing Church"

What I do, as an Episcopal priest is 'do Church'.

I've always felt, over the 30 plus years I've been a priest, is that there are two radical disconnects about 'doing church'.

The first disconnect is that when someone asks you, "Where do you go to church?" the answer is a geographical location. Ekklesia, the Greek word we translate as 'church' doesn't refer to a location, it refers to a community. Yet most of us think of 'church' as a building, a location, somewhere in particular. The real meaning of 'church' is the people of the community. They have to gather and so they gather in a location and a building, but 'church' is the people, not a building.

The other disconnect is the role of the priest in the space and the community. A priest is a person of 'authority'. A priest is 'in charge' of the church. A priest is responsible and accountable for what 'doing church' and 'being church' means. The priest is the 'minster' of the church.

Yet in the catechism of my church, the answer to the question "Who are the 'ministers' of the Church" is "the laity, deacons, priests and bishops". The primary 'ministers' of the church are the un-ordained. The laos, the people of God are the ministers of the church.

I find myself, after retiring from 30+ years of the model of the priest being the 'authority' and 'in charge', in a situation that is based on Total Common Ministry. The four little churches where I am the Interim Missioner are based on a model that is not the 'traditional model' of a congregation gathered around an ordained person. Instead, their metaphor is 'a congregation devoted to mission and ministry that has a sacramental member who is a priest'.

That's what I've been looking for my whole life as a priest. That's how we should 'do church'. Every member a 'minister' with a priest who is the sacramentalist.

A metaphor for 'priesthood' that has always intrigued me is the priest as 'shaman' to the tribe. The 'shaman' has a niche role. The shaman walks sideways and utters nonsense and touches the holy things. The shaman is in the community for a specific purpose and that only. The rest of the tribe does everything else. They consult the shaman about tribal matters, but it is the tribe that determines the direction the tribe will take.

That's where I find myself now. I am the Shaman to the Tribe. But much of the Tribe has forgotten the myth and metaphor. They cling instead to the traditional model of the priest as the authority and the leader. In Total Common Ministry, the authority is with the laos, the people. The Shaman is not the "leader" but the servant of the community.

There is much to relearn in the place where I am.

I am the Shaman, part of my role is to teach the Tribe about the traditions and the myths.

That I must do. Pray for me as "we" (since in the metaphor of Total Common Ministry it is always "we", not "I") seek to relearn the chants and the dances and the stories and "do Church" in a powerful and significant way.

This is where I am meant to be right now. When the Tribe is ready, the Shaman will arrive....

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.