Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Doesn't but Does Matter

Ah Sydney: this business of lay presidency. It certainly generates a lot of reaction and discussion in Anglican circles. So let's envisage a situation...

BOB THE UNEMPLOYED: Who's presiding this week, Vicar?
VICAR: It's Aunty Lucy. She's having a go!

The Vicar is in the choirstalls with the choir; Aunty Lucy is at the Altar Table

AUNTY LUCY: It will be for us the blood of whoops, I've dropped it!
VICAR: Aunty Lucy, luckily with lay presidency...

I, like many, have read all the radical stuff about cells instead of churches and new forms of doing ministry, and the nearest to this in Anglicanism has been the Church ordaining locals to provide volunteer ministers who do the central eucharistic ceremony. So long as people do it for travel expenses, you can ordain as many as you like (though training is expensive: but how trained does the person need to be?).

It is one of these curious areas where the liberalism of cells and shared ministry and secular society meets an extreme Protestantism.

However, I've no clear view on this, and indeed when I was going through my humanist-symbolic phase at Unitarian College the Pagan orientated worship tutor, who had us doing all manner of meditations, advised on the qualities of having a gown, and I rather agreed with him and had mine made. I wore it too when I did my one Eucharist service in Hull: the gown might have put a few people off but the service did. I think symbolism is important, and being assured, and the Anglican approach is a set of procedures and limitations that both adds symbolism and assures people. I rather approve of the Free Catholics of the early twentieth century, which was symbolism without creeds, though obviously it will have looked and sounded rather like the credal version. I've also entertained the notion of Liberal Catholicism where the Catholic side is heavily emphasised even if doctrinal rigidity is not.

I was interested in Bishop Alan Wilson's computer analogy of the Church of England with Catholic hardware and evangelical software. Presumably the ministry chosen is the hardware, but it seems to me there is Catholic software too. Also was this rather clever association of Spong and Jensen and about how Lambeth resolutions are treated rather selectively by the Jensenites:

It looks as though this issue has now reached what one might call the Jensen Spong Vanishing Point. The whole matter was considered very fully by the 1998 Lambeth conference, which decisively rejected it. So 98 Lambeth 1:10 is to die for, and 98 Lambeth 3:22 is to dynamite. Simultaneously. Shome mishtake?

I made a comment and there was a reply, so I'll reproduce these here:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said... If I'm one of few Anglicans who has done truly lay presidency - it's because I did this when Unitarian in a congregation, a service that did not work because in that context it was too divisive anyway (despite liaising).

My first view is really that the arguments for limiting who can carry out a eucharistic service is a form of trade unionism, that the old arguments for reserving it to a clerical class are supernatural and even superstitious and rather bust. But my second view is that it comes with some sort of competence and overview, and that each Church (i.e. denomination) has a way of supplying that competence and overview. It would be disturbing of many in the Anglican scene if anyone could just pop on some religious looking clothing (or indeed not bother) and do the stuff. And the trade unionism gives the actions and words a limitation that suggests an importance to the ritual.

An issue is how long and to what depth (for the overview) does someone need to be trained in order to do this job competently.

Then again, it raises the ritual when it is combined with those who do a range of pastoral and communal duties, which need training, who are foci of several 'operations' in the religious sphere.

I just wonder how thin my arguments are. I don't arrive at the possibility of lay presidency via Jensen's route at all. But that's only like saying traditionalist Protestants are as dogmatic as traditionalist Catholics. So what?

In general my argument is that traditions and continuities are important, and what is recognised helps what you do. But it is not a very good argument.

28 October 2008 01:59

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Adrian, thank you for your unique perspective, which opens all kinds of doors in different directions for me about ministry.

I'm wondering what the correlation is between exploding outward in all directions at once, and the strength you need at the centre to hold an explosion.

I'd want to see the whole ordination game as facilitating not limiting. I'd want to say that whether it is one or the other depends largely on the behaviour and attitudes of the people we ordain. Clerical trade unionism sounds a bit yukky to me, and I agree that part of the driving force behind it is superstition; at its best it articulates, canalises and deloys to good effect what's going on in us. When it turns back on the Church, however, it quickly becomes toxic, like one of those disease where your immune system takes over and starts destroying your body (I know I've probably got the whole physiology of that wrong).

Training and competence can be secured in all sorts of ways, I know. Again I'm love/hate about the way we've done it. I'm simultaneously worried about clergy who did the OT in eight essays, and delighted we were able to ordain them. I'm simultaneously delihgted to meet people on our ministry course, and horrified when ten years later some reject training as a way of life!

And when I reflect on your last para, I am left feeling ordaining clergy is a Good Thing as an articulation of the tradition — done with a light touch, the laying on of hands within a succession (as per the pastoral epistles) has been a means of messy quality assurance, and a historical linkage which carries potential accountability. It's a Bad Thing if it is allowed to predominate entirely — over professionalised or Voodoo’d up to the point it begins to take over people's consciousness of what the Church is or what ministry is. How we do it is more important than the fact we do it, perhaps? God has allowed and encouraged the growth alongside the main model of occasional completely flat ministry set-ups (like the Quakers) as well as alternative hierarchical models (like the Vineyard — implicit or Salvation Army — explicit), so as to preserve the whole body from becoming reduced to the set of Father Ted... ! ?

28 October 2008 09:23

I take the points.

No comments: