On A New Division of Labor
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.