THE EMERGENT PRIESTHOOD

Yesterday, with great reluctance, I joined The Order Of Melchizedek.

The "emergent church," as it has mostly become, is missing two major ingredients. It is not emergent and it is not a church, and I believe these two failings are linked to each other.

One of the major purposes of the Church is to contain an organisational structure that, from the outside, appears hierarchical and which, sadly, it has in practice, become. However, it was not meant to be this way. The "hierarchy" of the Church should be based on the dynamics of the Kingdom where those "higher up" the hierarchy exist to sacrificially and humbly serve those "beneath them." This model of leadership is based on the concept of the ideal king (partially achieved in the reign of David) and the concept of the ideal priest (explained most accurately in the Letter to the Hebrews). Of course, due to the greed and selfishness of human beings, this ideal of leadership has rarely been seen in reality within the Church during its long history. The vast majority of leaders in the Church, even when the above ideas about kingship and priesthood were universally understood, have gone for the "I'm in charge" option, occasionally with benign results, but, more often than not, with more oppressive and dictatorial ones.

The "emergent church" is obsessed with leadership. It has a generated an industry dedicated to publishing books on and arranging conferences about church leadership. As the emergent church is focussed, because of its defining ethos, on the contemporary, it has adopted a model of leadership based, not on ancient Hebraic formulas, but on modern business practices. No matter what the emergent church leadership may claim to the contrary, it is a leadership that aims to control and make "a profit." Emerging churches are carefully managed so that they emerge in the direction the pre-existing leadership considers "orthodox."

This situation has, in my opinion, come about because the cart has been put, well and truly, before the horse. The leadership was in place before the churches emerged. This has resulted in a leadership separate from the community.

What is needed is not just the new thing of emergent church but also the new thing of emergent priesthood. The priesthood for each, individual emergence should evolve with the new community or, if it is a "priest" who comes from outside to initiate and encourage the emergence of a new community, then that priest should be as a clean slate, ready to have his or her new priesthood written on them by the evolving community.

This is the ideal time for such experiments. More and more "priests" are finding themselves outside of the existing church hierarchies and employment. Such priests have two choices - to continue to hammer on the doors of their old homes asking to be let back in, or to take the opportunity to become part of something new, to allow their priesthood to emerge anew, to be of service to something new.

I fear that, although I understand this, I do not have the courage to follow my own convictions and will continue to hammer on the door that has just been slammed shut in my face. However, all is not lost for cowards like me as it should be possible to follow the calling of emergent priesthood within the existing churches. It's possible, although such priests will always have far less job security than their conformist colleagues.

Comments

THE EMERGENT PRIESTHOOD — 44 Comments

  1. Mad Priest, I can’t tell you how heartened I am that you have stopped referring to what happened yesterday as simply a loss and started talking about it in terms of its potential. (Taking into account your reservations about the new, and also your ongoing grief and anger about the old.)

    I think your closing comment about your courage is a bit harsh though. It makes perfect sense to go on trying to get a formal job while pursuing any opportunity your new-found freedom might bring.

  2. I think you are on to something MP. I agree. I couldn’t have expressed it as eloquently as you. (In fact I couldn’t have expressed it at all because I’ve never had the same thought). Go for it.

    I don’t think it is cowardice to have been hammering on the doors that you have. I think its cowardice that the doors have not been opened to you. I still suspect that there are doors that are wide open to you that most priests wouldn’t be wanting to knock on. Is that the same thing you are talking about?

  3. Welcome to the Club, dear boy! What I have done is to base myself in the context of a conventional parish, not seeking a leadership role, but simply making myself available as and when the community needs my sacerdotal services. Meanwhile my daily ministry has moved from the sacerdotal to the diaconal (bathing, cooking and driving the seriously handicapped). The joy of it is GHQ doesn’t bug your butt and you don’t have to go to PCC’s!

    Courage? True courage lies in transforming the fear of necessity in the virtue of a new praxis OCICBW!

  4. Thanks, Dougal. At the moment I am not in yet ready to swallow my pride or accept the pain that joining a new congregation as a spare pair of hands would entail.

  5. My family and I have been thinking about you during this hard time, and I was glad too, to see this post that has a suggestion of future possibility. I pray that the Spirit will lead you and guide you in the days ahead. As always, I am grateful for your ministry here.

  6. Well, first of all, you joined The Order Of Melchizedek the moment hands were laid upon you when you were priested. Never, never, never forget that.

    Secondly, I completely get it that you’re just not ready to connect with another parish. These days when I go to church I deliberately arrive a bit late and leave early because I just don’t want to explain myself. For a while I simply was not able to make myself go to an Episcopal Church because the bishop took away my preaching license (no reason; just refused to renew it – out of spike, I guess) and listening to someone else preach when I’m no longer allowed was just too painful.

    Slowly it will pass. Truly.

    I will say more later. Right now I need to get out of the house and head for the early morning mediation sitting at the Center.

    Love to all you wonderful people in this virtual parish!

  7. Jonathan, I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about here, but I wish you well. Is the Order of Melchizedek a real organization or a metaphor? If what you speak of is a return to the very earliest Christian communities as a model for today, then it sounds good to me.

  8. Goodness, Cathy. I was referring to my own earlier comment in which I used the word “spike” when I meant “spite”.

    I was very moved and honored by your comment. Thank you! OOOXXX!

    Mimi: The reference is from Ps. 110. “Thou art a priest forver after the order of Melchizedek” (and also a few places in Hebrews) and it is typically quoted with regard to the ontological change at ordination. That is, priesthood can’t be taken away from a person.

  9. Mimi, Hebrews 5. Priests (at least the ones I have known) often speak of Melchizedek in reference to their priesthood. I’m too lazy to look it up but I would guess it’s part of the ordination liturgy, as well. To involuntarily lose one’s place at the altar (and of course all that goes with it in terms of active servanthood through ministry in the church) is a very, very difficult thing for any priest. I know you know that, Mimi. I just want to share with the laity in the group who may not know about these things that Jonatahon is not being melodramatic when he speaks of Melchizedik (although he does understand the power of dramatic images).

    I used to think it was silly to have to have a bishop at a priest’s funeral or to place the coffin in the nave with the feet to the congregation rather than towards the altar, as for a layperson. But no longer. I know from a layperson’s point that it sounds like priests sometimes think they are “special” – but it’s not like that, or rather it is, but what is special in traditions that make ordination a sacrament is that its transforms one’s identity (not sure if that is the correct word) rather than just being someone who makes a deep and profound commitment. At least that’s how I understand it. Even the most humble and down to earth of priests (or maybe especially those kind), feel this deeply.

  10. I concur with Fr Dougal: welcome to the club. It’s a real struggle, though, I have to say. At least for me, nothing has come clear any time soon. Blessings.

  11. Ellie, I know about the Scripture references, but I thought perhaps there was an organization, too, an emergent church type organization. I’ve already reminded Jonathan that ordination leaves an indelible mark, like baptism. Sometimes I miss the subtleties ln his words.

    And I’ve tried to understand the emergent church, but it seems to be many things, rather poorly defined, and I can’t get a handle on it.

    Kathy, I haven’t lived being a priest who lost a church, but I believe that I have a little understanding that it’s quite a wounding experience. I’m not saying that this is easy for Jonathan.

    WV: “bligh” as in Captain Bligh.

  12. Ellie,

    One of my rules when dealing with bishops is never attribute to mendacity what can be explained by stupidity. OK, I have a jaundiced view of some of the purple shirts I have met, I admit it. But have you asked? One of our retired clergy was dropped from the mailing list because some idiot did not bother to check on his status.

    FWIW
    jimB

  13. Oh, yes, Jim. I’ve asked. He made the decision to eliminate my position last year and my job ran out on Dec. 31 of 2009. There was considerable unpleasantness involved. I didn’t say much about it here at the time but now I can be forthright about it as my relationship with the Diocese has been severed. I lost my parish home at the same time because it is a diocesan mission.

    (For the record, the bishop who invited me here retired a couple of years ago. It is his successor who “has no need of me”. Interestingly, he said to my face that he sees me as part of the former bishop’s “era”.)

    One board member of the little Center I run (said center fortunately being an autonomous organization) was disparaging of me for being traumatized by what had happened saying, “It’s just a job.” Another member spoke up and said, “No, it’s not just a job. She’s essentially been dumped by her life partner.” I was deeply grateful because it’s true. I first began working professionally for the church when I was 16 and I’ve been committed to the life of the church under religious vows for over 20 years now. (23 to be exact.)

    I well understand how disheartened MadPriest feels these days.

  14. When I moved to New Mexico I attended church only a couple of times for the first several months. For a good year I arrived late and left promptly. The rector and assistant knew who I was but no one else. Gradually I let myself be known. Take your own time.

    Right now I preach and preside once a month, which is perfect for me (but then, I have a full-time secular job which makes a world of difference). I feel my ministry in God’s world is mostly in blogging and writing fiction. You can guess who my hero in the first category is.

  15. Fewer and fewer priests will have job security in the coming days, Jonathan, even the conformists.

    And if someone could explain to me in not too many words what the emergent church is, I’d appreciate it and not leave such idiotic comments in the future.

  16. “Priesthood can’t be taken away from a person”-just like herpes, then?
    That would explain a great deal.

  17. My suggestion is probably what you are doing anyway – to pause. Do nothing and go nowhere. Wipe the board clean and wait for some inspiration regarding direction.

    You are right about this manufactured emerging church. I’m utterly unconvinced about it.

    The actual emerging groups come from below and decide their own beliefs and ministry, and they are popping up all over the place. Some might even have a Christian basis.

    Let your own ministry ’emerge’ in good time.

  18. You (or anybody else apart from Christ) cannot be a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek, since that priesthood is non-transferable (Gr. aparabatos from Heb 7:24). The Melchizedek priest is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners and exalted above the heavens (Heb 7:26). None of us except Christ are such.

  19. Mark Harris highlighted this post as a wonderful commentary on the emergent church, so It must be so. I understand the concept of leadership arising from within the group, and, according to Adrian’s comment, they believe whatever the members of group decide. Certain groups declare themselves to be the emerging church, but they are not really such entities at all, but apparently they’re catching on.

    Still very vague to me, but I suppose that’s as close as I’ll get to making sense of them. I have the same difficulty understanding Anglo-Catholics, except that most of them want women to stay in their place in submission to men, and they prefer elaborate liturgies with lots of silk and lace and incense and candles all over the place. I still can’t wrap my head around the essence of either group. They’re mysteries to me.

  20. Mimi,

    I think that many Episcopalians have a challenge with the concept of the church “emergent” since it is actually something than many of our parishes, led by the Spirit, assumedly, have a penchant toward — Being “contextually relevant” where we find ourselves. As the Mad One has pointed out, this takes on life when it is a natural, “organic” outgrowth of a given faith body, as opposed to leadership ticking off goals.

    Many confuse “emergence”, IMHO, with the “seeker friendly” (marketing”) church of a few years back, and in fact, that nasty smelling beast often supplants true emergence. Again, IMHO, “seeker friendly’s” goal is to get bums from the “outside” into the “inside” (Let’s kill the organ and have a worship band!). In contrast, “emergence” is about bums heading out to be church in the world. If other bums chose to join us in our parish, excellent, but that is not the goal. This is not good church growth thinking, but neither is it anything new to most of us.

    An example of a parish attempting to live into this vision is a local TEC/ELCA congregation — Church of the Apostles. Their website (www.apostleschuch.org) provides useful information, including the mission statement: “CHURCH OF THE APOSTLES is a young, emerging, Episcopal and Lutheran mission congregation. We are a future church with an ancient faith… In the story of Jesus, we have glimpsed God’s future and know that “thiscouldchangeeverything.” So our purpose is to helpgodchangeeverything, by participating in God’s future, within today’s culture and our local zipcode, living and serving in intentional, sacramental community in the way of Jesus Christ.”

    You many find two other resources helpful, or at the least, interesting. One is the Anglimergent website – an endeavor regarding which my bishop, The Rt. Rev.Gregory H. Rickel, Diocese of Olympia is Bishop Protector (From what I have observed, the efforts have not been “top-down”, a methodology that the Mad One rightly decries.). The other is Phyllis Tickle’s book “The Great Emergence,” but I’m with the Mad One regarding the matter of creating an industry with the stuff regarding what the church should be about. Just do it!

  21. I think the thing that pisses me off most about the “emergent church” industry is that it does not acknowledge the thousands of priests and congregations throughout the world who do it naturally and have been doing it for years, simply because they accidentally read the New Testament sometime in their past. Oh, and then, of course, there’s the whole liberation theology thing in South America.

  22. Agreed. “Emergence” might be a new word, but if the concept is foreign, what the feck have you been doin’ the past two thousand years or so?

  23. Then there are emergent servers and emergent choirs – as in emerging from the nearest pub to the church well after closing time.

  24. KJ, the church calls its women’s group “Hysteria”. They can’t be all bad.

    The Anglo-Catholics could call their women’s groups by the label, but purely, without irony.

    And yes, Jonathan, I know that you are an Anglo-Catholic who left the company because of their misogyny.

  25. Yes, Dah-veed. It’s a new service that I’ve started for the Neighbourhood. I’m allowing a few troll comments to stay up to give people a “Thank God, I’m not like that twat” moment.

  26. Fly over my head? I suppose so if you mean something other than that’s what Anglo-Catholics always say when they throw tantrums. If you mean something more subtle, then it flew right over my head.

    Did you know that your mentor’s second miracle is a fake? He’s going to be a saint anyway though. What’s a little miracle-bending for the RCs?

  27. John Henry has been a saint as far as English Anglicans are concerned for yonks. That those superstitious Italians are only just getting around to recognising his sainthood is of little concern to me.

  28. As coincidence would have it, I recently attended a clergy continuing education conference with Phyllis Tickle talking about “the Great Emergence,” which is resulting in “Emerging” and “Emergent” and several other (often conflicted) groups. However, what was repeated again was that the results were disseminated leadership. How this was or wasn’t reflected in “Fresh Start” events in C of E wasn’t clear.

    Now, my own question for her was how we could discern how much of this was the movement of the Spirit in this generation and how much as adolescent enthusiasm, sort of “flash mob” worship events. Sure, there seem to be signs of promise in some of this, but I fear acquiescence to all the excitement – and the hazards – that can come with being first adopters.

    Ah, well: at least I can maintain some curmudgeonly cred….

  29. Most of the emergent church celebrities are still stuck on young people which is incredibly unimaginative. I prefer something more challenging like doing emergent church alongside a bunch of Alzheimer sufferers in our local old peoples’ home. Now that is when it really starts to get dangerous as far as church rules and dogma is concerned.

  30. There isn’t an emergent church. It’s not a denomination. It has no structure. It seems to me to be a lot of informal groups annoyed with evangelical Christianity striking out on their own with a mix of people from mainline denominations interested in the conversation. At least that’s how it seems here. There are emergent cohorts drawing people from various churches or no churches that meet periodically for various reasons.

  31. The Great Emergence, as Phylis Tickle describes it, makes a lot of sense to me. If you’ve not seen Phylis’ book called, “The Great Emergence” or the video lecture called “The New Rose” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8201186130545666528#, I would commend them to you. But the Great Emergence as a descriptor for what is now happening in Western Christianity and “emergent churches” are two different things. I am happy that there are emergent churches in the world and especially those connected to denominations. But I share with the Mad Priest ecclesiological concerns.