Thursday, April 24, 2014

Priest a Barista?

Continued reflections on Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All by L. William Countryman (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1999) and The Christian Moral Life: Practices of Piety by Timothy F. Sedgwick (New York: Seabury Books, 2008).


Between services for Good Friday and the Saturday night Easter Vigil, I had to retreat to Starbuck's to read William Countryman's Living on the Border of the Holy.  I'd grown drowsy and hungry during a drizzly cold spring afternoon, and beloved old dog Luis had been amorous all day long, nudging my highlighter,  interposing paws and nose between my face and the book. I needed a break.


While Countryman elaborated his idea of "priesthood for all," the young man behind the counter was demonstrating the concept.  With a mild voice, he ministered to our needs not just for coffee but for civility, attention, the pre-packaged ambience of a hangout for introverts and cozy small groups.  Efficient mixing coffees and cleaning up, informative ("The Mocha Chip flavor hasn't come back yet, but you might try..."),  patient, able to commiserate with the harried delivery guy from the Domino's Pizza next door -- he single-handedly made the experience everything we lucky customers needed, including the younger guy who scowled at his laptop in the corner the whole time I was there.


Is this what Countryman means?  If so, I wonder if we need a church at all.  I imagine that Starbuck's company policies encourage all that same behavior.  Maybe it gets him a bonus.  With this barista, it didn't feel forced, and it was good.  But was it priesthood?


Yes, and no.  Countryman suggests that the best candidates for ordination to priesthood will be ones who already act as priests in their communities, in this more general way.  Then they can be ordained priests, meaning that they are trained to play a role in the sacramental rites of the church..  Theatrical metaphors abound in Countryman, especially in a discussion of sacraments pp.137-139.  Priests are visible signs of certain aspects of a ministry that we all share.  He opposes the notion of "priest" as set apart from "laity."   What is "laity," he asks, but an empty word defined entirely by the absence of ordination (142)?


By mid-book, having cautioned us against many ways in which clergy have been idolized; seen as parents, strict or indulgent; treated as "professionals" with "clients"; or otherwise removed from collegial conversation with the laity; Countryman admits that he appears to reverse course (133).   We do need experts educated in theology to avoid "unreflective" fundamentalism that devolves into "stony rigidity" or "spineless sentimentality" (91). We need someone in the "role" of administering sacraments, including confession and baptism, and also teaching and preaching. 


A discussion of how priests should be educated shows just how many roles are piled onto the curriculum.  They should know Scripture, and Church History, and Theologians; but also counseling, finances, sociology, etc. etc. etc.


Countryman envisions a church where the clergy empower parishioners to do the Church's jobs, including pastoral care.


This is precisely the direction our Rector, now in his second year, has been nudging the church.  He meets resistance from some whose model of the church is more clergy-centric.  But, for goodness' sake, the whole church is Christ's incarnation in today's world: We've all got to do His work. 


Countryman is right to see that God can work through others, whether they're in Church or not.  That idea certainly stretches back to the Old Testament -- where a gentile priest named Melchizedeck represented God, and Cyrus of Persia is praised as an instrument of God, rescuing the hapless Israelites from exile. 


Now, for some more coffee.

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