I read, with interest, the following story in The Atlantic…click here to read.
“Higher Calling Lower Wages, The Vanishing Of The Middle Class Clergy”
By David R. Wheeler
(This commentary also appeared as a comment at my Facebook Group, Not All Catholics Are Roman…But All Catholics Are One)
Protestants and Evangelicals are learning what Independent, Gnostic, Celtic, Old, and even some Orthodox clergy and denominations have known for a long, long time. There are going to be denominations, dioceses, and even parishes/communities that literally will be so big and so complex that a full time clergy, being paid a decent living wage that allows them to pay off their debt, is required. Those denominations in that situation DO have to engage the entire denomination in a discussion of priorities. What is more important? To buy the (admittedly cheap forclosed) Crystal Cathedral in the next city over, or to make sure your Director of Diocesan Clergy has not just his M. Div., but his MBA with a minor in enough social work classes to be able to help the pastors below him manage parishes AND catch the subtle signs a certain clergy is going waaay off the path, perhaps even into pedophilia?!
For denominations large or small, growing or shrinking….this is to me one of the more important points: What drives your decisions on clergy education requirements and pay? Who are you listening to more….Ceasar and money, or the theologians of your faith? How can your denomination or parish claim to posses truth, morals, and leadership if the bar to be clergy is so high and expensive, but the pay so low, that your pastor must default on his or her student debt?
Another quote I think is very important to this discussion: “One example of a deliberately bi-vocational church is Love Chapel Hill in North Carolina, where five co-pastors share the workload of the church and work other jobs on the side.” Now this, I am sure is going to sound very familiar to a good number of non-Utrechtian Old Catholics, independent Catholics, and other small Catholic denominations. It plays right into an issue we have for years had debates about here on this group – how many clergy is too many clergy?
A story: Last year, as you veterans know, Brian and I went to the very informal ISM Family Reunion in the Asheville, NC area. We met and became friends there with Bishop Ron Shelton, and his Celtic Apostolic Church (Ron, correct me and forgive me if I got that wrong…I am sick in bed today with just myself and a tablet while they boys are at flag football, so your card is far out of reach).
We met Rev. Gerry, an older woman who, as Pastor, immediately knew what was needed, where things were, and who to send fetching when Brian and I, after more drama than you can imagine, finally arrived that Sunday. You could stand next to this woman and just KNOW she could command anything that community might deal with, from a fued amoung families planning a wedding to a terrorist strike causing a plane crash in the parking lot. Ron knows it to, and merely stayed out of her way. Everything I later learned about her from folks like Phil Biesi confirmed that impression, and also clued me in that she can hold her own in a good many theological discussions, and has other duties.
I met the young seminarian, and then with my MS addled brain, forgot her name. A young mother with small children, We shared smiles and a few words, but enough that I know if in the future my daughter, who lives about 2 hours away, ever send me a request to help one of her friends struggling to find God inbetween diapers and those horrid $3 per minute late fees at the daycare pickup line I know EXACTLY who to send her to. (By the way Ron…have pity on me, and post her name and how she is doing!)
Now, I did not get to meet the more than token African American priest, as he had other commitments that day. However, Ron, Bishop Ed, and Phil told me quite a bit about how he was taking Celtic theology but expressing it in the lively evangelical way that so many traditionally African American Churches have become famous for. Later, on our way home, I met a woman who swore that he was the first minister who had ever made God sound real. She had been to exactly ONE service, having gone with a friend, but months later could still tell me parts of his sermon she was still thinking and praying and reading her bible about. I suggested that since the one time taste of the cookie had turned out to be so filling, she ought to go back and taste what a month’s worth of such fare might be like. It isn’t important if she ever went back…that clergy person changed that one person and for one moment made God real to her.
Since he lives, literally, less than 10 miles away, that community is also where Ron is known to say a mass or two. Altogether, at the time, they probably had less than 20 “official” lay members, and weekend attendence of not a whole lot more. Area Fundamentalist churches spread rumors about them, denounced them as evil, and while they had good relations with the pastor of the area Roman Church, the Roman Bishop of the area certainly wasn’t calling Ron to go have coffee and discuss international day of prayer.
How many clergy? To how many laity? What was that ratio?
It was just enough. Which is undoubtably exactly how God planned it, and why he had these 5 very different people, all of whom shared a love of all things Celtic and Catholic, to end up meeting each other.
This church had been criticized as a “collection of clergy in search of a reason to exist”. A problem church. Just another example of why the Independent Catholics will be forever “a mess” / “disorganized” / “ineffective”.
This church opened their doors to the Gnostic, Old Catholic, Ecumenical Franciscan, Independent Catholic, and Roman Catholics who made up that ISM Family Reunion. Each of us went home having listened to the others, and knowing a lot more about what things we had in common, and what things we didn’t. Most of all we went home after relating to each other as fellow humans and Catholics.
How many clergy did they have?
Just enough. They were not, and I am willing to bet are not today, a “problem” church. They may have been a church with a marketing problem – after all, who better to start a diaper drive for the local woman’s shelter than the young mother seminarian? One newspaper story of her munchkins climbing on the piles of diapers as she sits there in her seminary collar explaining why Celtic Catholics view social justice a little differently than their Roman cousins, and “BAM!” I guarrantee the following week there would be at least 2 or 3 young mothers, who would then go to a mass where no one made them sit behind bullet proof glass and no one cared if the 18 month old toddled up to Rev. Gerry mid homily, only to be carried back like she was a grandchild instead of an interruption. (That idea isn’t copyrighted. All you denominational leaders with young mother seminarians, go ahead. Try it! Then post photos here.)
This article was bemoaning the fatw of clegy who go, as they said, $80,000 into debt only to find they can’t get a job. It talked about bi-vocational clergy like it was the latest greatest new thing.
Paul made tents. Matthew banged on doors to collect taxes. Peter was a fisherman. Mary Magdalene invested and managed her funds to create income. Martha cooked, cleaned, and washed. Pricilla and her husband ran a family business. Bi-vocational clergy should be the norm, and because bi-vocational clergy have other work, families, and responsibilities, there is a valid reason for God to decide that the old imperial model of a single priest with maybe an assistant pastor and a lay or religious secretary is just plain wrong.
That last thought is going to be uncomfortable with a lot of folks, especially in denominations that invest all the parish authority in the priest who is pastor (and way too often white, older, and male). It will surely generate the usual slew of private message hate mail from single priests with fancy garages and lots of lacey things from Will and Balmer. It is entirely possible that one or more of the older, male, white guys who wear white beanies won’t like it either. Tough. Having been the sole owner of a few business endevors, I get it. It feels good to be the King. Or Queen. But, no matter how nicely it is dressed, or how innocently it comes into your hands, power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And the last place you want absolute power corrupting absolutely is in a Church. Bi-Vocational clergy by the very nature of being so must learn to share power and authority. They have to share. Be it sharing with laity, religious, other clergy, or heaven forbid, the denomination down the street, bi-vocational clergy have to do that, or they remain trapped in the tiny world they can build part time. Pastors have to let the music minister have the ability to change songs. Clergy professors have to admit when the seminarian happens to be more right, or at the very least let graduated seminarians not yet ordained teach the Theology 101 class. That gives the Professor more time to make sure that “Comparitive Thomasian Commentary” has a lesson plan that can be delivered online at 1/3 the cost. Directors of denominational seminaries need to wake up to the fact that if the college down the street has a bible history class as part of it’s humanities program, it is not the end of the world if the seminarian goes there on Wednesday nights instead of your seminary class that is Tuesday-Thursday. Even better would be admitting that the faculty at University of NH blows doors off your M. Div. Because they spent last summer on a dig in Isreal, so you cancel your seminary class and just send everyone to that class and give them full credit. Bishops, for the love of all that is Holy, identify your clergy who manage well. Check out the linked in profile about their past jobs or current jobs. Stage a fake terrorist plane crash and watch which clergy rise to lead. Then, make them pastors, and unless there is a confirmation, get out of their way. Go finish the policy manual so they have a nice 3 ring binder to pull out when someone says “Hey, can we go ahead and start having the 10 year olds do one homily a month?”, “Joe is homebound, but has a 3d printer. He has edible ink made from wheat. Can I consecrate that, so while he watches our live stream mass, he can print and take communion?”, and all the other questions pastors deal with. Then they just flip open the binder, check the index, and say “Mary, go ahead and plan an essay contest for children’s mass 12 weeks from now. Winner gets to read it as homily. Make sure to give them the right readings – that is feast of St. So and so.” “George, tell Joe to write up his request, but it will have to go up to the liturgy committee first, then be checked by our head theologian, Bishop What’s Her Name. And make sure he is on the list to get a Eucharistic Minister to do lay liturgy with Eucharist at his house in the meantime.” No dithering, no emails bugging you while you and the bishops at your town’s Christian interfaith Confrence work out the group “Our Father” and prayer for peace you are doing at that big mall next month, which might just save a few souls.
There are lots of us already in denominations doing all these things. Bi-vocational clergy, having multiple clergy and lay ministers so different people can hear in the language of their life is common in some OC/IC communities, and to their credit some progressive Roman parishes. Yes, many Anglican and Episcopal, Roman and other denominations, dioceses, and parishes can and should read that article, these comments, and do some research on these concepts.
But, you IC and OC, you progressive Roman parishes and communities out there…..God gave you a light, why hide it. Google the other churches in your area, regardless of denomination. Handwrite a letter offering to meet for coffee. At coffee, invite that pastor to come to a mass or some other event like a potluck. Build some bridges. Let them see what bi-vocational clergy, sharing of authority and power, investing laity, and all the rest look like at your house. When offered a return invitation go with an open mind to thier house. Not every denomination is going to have a theology or a governance that can tolerate bi-vocational clergy. That doesn’t mean however, that God may have given them some other gift that your community despretely neeeds.
In other words, get up from this desk, away from this keyboard, and like the article said….Go. Out. Walk. Talk. Build the city of God.