“It’s not spring until you know where the curbs are.”
John U. Bloomington, MN
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then there’s a level of Heaven that smells like Lysol.
What if the labor of ministry, in the Episcopal Church at least, were arranged in a new way? I have an idea on how to divide the duties of a parish that are based on roles of the past and needs of the present.
The parish had a Rabbi who ran the children’s education and adult education, performed rites (services and sacraments) and preached (taught) in the church. If the Rabbi were learning and passing along knowledge every week, all in the parish would be enriched.
Monasteries, abbeys, priories and other remarkably holy places, had a Priest who performed sacred rites. Remarkably holy in the sense that when people leave the place they generally remark on how still and peaceful and loving the place was. This Priest would have a role of serving a holy place with the rites of God. I propose the same distinction made between Rabbi and Priest in ancient Judaism. In some sense, this Priest would be in one way closer to the order of Melchidezik, in so far as he/she is serving a person(s) in deep relationship to YHWH. In another way it might be closer to the temple priesthood in that the Priest is entering a holy place (but not in the offering of animal sacrifice way, hopefully).
The parish had a pastoral care team who would be comprised of Deacons with degrees/training in their specialization and work as parish nurses, therapists, Stephens ministers, and lay eucharistic ministers. Every parish would have a team of trained individuals for this work, either part-time or full-time based on the size of the congregation. This work is important to the healing of all in the congregation and nowadays the training to do therapy and nursing well is specialized and not taught in seminary. Talk therapy might be taught a little, but not all the other forms of therapy and medications.
The parish had an administrative team who would be comprised of Deacons with administrative training in office skills, discernment teams (a decision-making method in “Discerning God’s Will Together”), conflict resolution, and non-profit culture. Again the size of the congregation would determine this team size and part-time/full-time status. These Deacons would run the office, website, mission/charity and evangelism, finances, building, etc. This would be more involved and trained than serving on vestry.
Why break all this up in this way?
*The current culture of Priest leading everything in the parish, acting as sole minister, and the parish semi-passively serving in committee roles has actually not worked very well.
*People with training often go un-utilized or under-utilized.
*The Priest is probably not trained and not happy to do all these functions. On the local radio station this week a retiring Lutheran Pastor bemoans how many meetings he went to over his career in an ad for his church (their ads never do sell their church well). I bet many others feel the same waste of time.
*The congregation assigns too much workload to the Priest. When small parishes can no longer afford a Priest and start having someone drive in to do pulpit supply on Sunday morning, they get a big surprise in how much was being done by the old Priest.
*Young people and other adults in the parish would see the many ways in which they could answer a call from God to serve. Those who want to help others and want to do tasks in their parish would have a choice of avenues.
*The committee structure/meeting paradigm comes from the business world and does not work well for a non-profit. It also leaves many people unwilling to go near churches and annual meetings.
*Having Deacons in so many functions would allow oversight, training and support from the Diocese. The support network possibilities are staggering.
What are the drawbacks?
*This new division would require a lot of education.
*People would have to stop expecting the Priest to lead it all, a change in expectations and behavior.
I am sure you, gentle reader, have come up with a multitude of reasons in your mind why this should not be tried/will fail: hours, pay, costs, finding talent, personnel management, loss of local tradition. All of them have to do with why the system is what it is at present.
Can you also see that having teams of dedicated individuals would enhance aspects of parish life? That newcomers would see the change? That not everyone would have to become a disciple, but that those who wish to serve would be trained and empowered to do so to fit their talents (charisms)?
Perhaps it won’t work. Perhaps it’s too wacky. You will note this is not a proposal to convention, simply a blog entry, something for you to ponder.
Recently, I did some reading on the religious practices of followers of the imperial deities of the Roman-Greco empire, as well as the Mystery religions and folk deities. The deity names and personalities of the deities bear no relation to modern ideas or beliefs, but the practices bear some relation to modern US ideas and behavior. And, more importantly, they show that the US culture has a culture-wide religion, which is sometimes referred to as secularism.
That last paragraph was very academic in tone and diction. I’m sorry.
The thing is we all have religion, and we can have several religions at once. In Greece and Turkey in the 1st century AD, some people worshipped YHWH in a synagogue and belonged to imperial guilds (with the offering system that meant), some people worshipped the imperial deities and the mystery religion deities, and some worshipped YHWH and Christ in a house church and the local deities (of Greek origin). In Northern Europe several centuries later, many people attended Christian mass and had statues or some symbol of the old gods in their homes.
Yes, we all have religion. We all have some set of beliefs (in a god or scientific principles or some ideas picked up along the way) and we all engage in repeated behavior that reinforces and/or stems from that belief. For me, it’s crossing myself and saying a small prayer at the sound of an ambulance going by. For a friend, it’s ordering pizza every Thanksgiving day. For another friend, it’s reading the horoscope in the newspaper to see how her day will go.
Ok, so we do all revere or worship some deity, place or set of ideas. So what?
I was watching those stop-action Christmas shows (Rankin & Bass) from the 1960s in December and noticed that they carry A LOT of ideas that have now become generally accepted wisdom throughout the US: Christmas is the holiest night of the year, Santa as boss (of semi-mechanized, light industrial workshop), a grove of trees (the great outdoors) as most holy place to be married, Christmas as magical time (when miracles happen and bad magicians have great power), and other ideas. (Watch them to see how many ideas in there you have heard repeated since then and not before.) These shows REALLY framed a lot of American secular ideas on what is sacred and why Christmas = toys.
I also have been aware for several years that the secular Christmas songs are mostly from the first half of the 20th century and were mostly written by people who either were not practicing Christians or were of other faiths. These songs allowed the writer and listeners to share in Christmas without sharing Christianity. These secular songs were then seen as non-offensive (no religious content) and were sung on Christmas shows for kids and adults on tv. I bet you know the words to White Christmas.
Ok, so those shows had a big impact. So what?
They are not the only shows to have a big impact on secularism. All the superhero shows and comic books/graphic novels have given us a pantheon of heroes and villains that is related most certainly to the pantheon of heroes and villains in the Greco-Roman empire. This has been written about very well by other writers. Please go read something by David Reynolds, William Irwin, Robin Rosenberg, or Grant Morrison. I suggest that you watch how people where you work or hang out talk about these characters and their adventures, The talkers can be classed as mildly interested, interested, geekishly interested, and uber-geekishly obsessed. What you are seeing is a novitiate, seeker, priest stratification.
Ok, so these stories are known everywhere in US culture and provide a mental-emotional framework for many of the seekers and priests. So what?
Have you ever been to a sci-fi con or comic con or anime con? Have you heard of LARP? If you have, go read about the ancient mystery religions of Mithras and Isis throughout the Mediterranean. Yeah. They are one and the same thing. The LARPers are acting out the story with variations of the deities and demi-gods for their own benefit and the entertainment and emotional wellbeing (sense of community and belonging to larger story) of those around them.
Ok, so LARPers are weird and may have a correspondence to some ancient religion priests. So what?
Have you noticed the huge number of Love, Faith, Family, Hope, Courage, and so on, signs that women are hanging in homes and workplaces? I have. They are really popular in the town where I live. Are they in your town? For years I knew that Romans worshipped virtues. But I could not figure out how that worked. How can you worship a concept?
Worship a god? Sure. Revere a historical event? Sure. But how does one worship Endurance? Now I get it. If you put a Love sign on the living room wall or a Faith pillow on your couch it’s just like hanging a Fertility goddess statue by the door. You seek blessing, without really saying it in an explicit prayer. If you compete in marathons, you revere Endurance. If you shop til you drop on Black Friday, you worship Prosperity.
So where am I going with all this?
A huge number of deities are worshipped today in the US; many are worshipped by people who identify themselves as belonging to a traditional Faith. Most Americans have some beliefs and ideas that belong to and are expressed in secular movies and tv and music. An ever-growing number of Americans are content with a secular life in mainstream culture or a subculture, finding spirituality but not wanting religion (meaning going to church).
Now I am not saying this is bad. To each his or her own, as the saying goes. For me, secularism alone does not provide a meaning-filled life. But that may only be me. I just wanted to say that secularism is on the rise and is the favored religion of this culture.
Yes, I am aware that I am treading on the edge of a major complaint about US culture exported through entertainment made by people in other countries. I mean no complaint here, nor do I intend offense.