Monday, 23 May 2011

Who's for Ordination?

As I repair and reposition my website, the good point about a blog is that it can respond to the things of the moment, in terms of where the author is as regards a series of actions or thoughts.

I have acted as a sort of link person between the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church and Unitarianism, and the actual connection person I have facilitated is now making those connections herself and I can roughly make the arguments but see what actually happens (This sounds a bit like the Baha'i view of the Bab making the way for Baha'u'llah, but don't tell the Bab that as he had his own ideas).

The issue is one of ministry and how we do it or don't do it, and the value of ordination, apostolic ordination or none at all. From one angle Louise Rogers says to me something like: have a list of what needs doing, and then get people to do these things, rather than be told what you ought to have (for example by the General Assembly and a Roll of Ministers).

To me, this is the ultimate lowest ministry, a rational working out of needs and tasks, and distributing them out. The problem is that it takes away the usefulness of a co-ordinating personality that is easily recognised, and indeed the notions of embodiment in a person. I think the sacred is about the theology of the body and culture. I am not arguing (I hope not) for two tiers of Church person, but I think I am arguing for a special effort at learning and subsequent teaching for someone carrying the evolving tradition that one calls Unitarian.

Thus the special person is so because they have skills and knowledge, the knowledge transferred through the skills. If we follow not a priesthood of all believers model but an educational facilitating model, that person puts into practice the knowledge to pass it on to others and those skills - and this includes both exercising and spreading pastoral work. Let us think of it a big like the Buddhist who learns the teachings, joins the community and does the effort and then, with recognition from the Sangha, passes it on.

There is a rationality in having both ministers and superintendent ministers, and the lack of the latter is one reason why Unitarianism is unco-ordinated and uneven, often the best places not helping the weak because of the dominant congregationalist model. For me, the more you push the education justification, the more the minister becomes a superintendent minister - because the minister is constantly in the process of assisting others to do the job he or she can do. We really ought to crack this isolationism.

All this rational explanation is sufficient as explanations and justifications until you realise that we are in the business of what we might or might not call the sacred, and so sacredness has a part to play in the specialness of the facilitating person. Sacredness is in the material and is in expression. As soon as you start on that road, you start on a road towards something more Catholic.

Most Protestant existence is a fellowship of believers, and there is the priesthood of all believers. Unitarians are not believers in that sense, and does not constitute a fellowship of belief. It constitutes a fellowship of difference coming together. However, again, the facilitating person is one who ministers to that diverse group, and in the context of what we might consider as sacred or, at least, special.

Unitarians over the decades have dropped the importance of ordination, but some ministers still value this rite. It is acquired in the Presbyterian system (a gathering of discussing ministers) in Northern Ireland, by past association in other denominations and by special effort in addition to joining the General Assembly Roll (and enacting that roll membership by the ministry with a congregation or two). Roman Catholic and Anglican priests becoming Unitarian ministers bring with them their ordinations and these are claimed as apostolic, whereas Free Church ministers bring their non-apostolic ordinations. But here is something not often considered, that Liberal Catholics also bring across apostolic ordinations - or, in the other direction, seek them out.

Now why this is in any way different is because these folk have their apostolic ordinations with a tradition that began by adding the extras of Theosophy and Krishnamurti and a bit of Buddhism and some conversion of the supernatural into magic. Even the Old Catholic defines itself as outside the dogma of the Roman Church (especially of 1870) even if it does not have participation in the Reformation.

There is then the history of the Liberal Catholics being in part Unitarians going up the candle, with some finding trinitarianism (but then some being broad Church and high Church together trinitarians from the off - in Anglicanism, Charles Gore merged their philosophies and Roman Catholicism had a short Modernist period that affected Old and Liberal Catholic origins).

There is an argument made here that the apostolic and the Unitarian are in conflict, and it is a good argument. The ordination of Knut Heidelberg stated it was non-apostolic, "because we don't believe it," said the sermoniser. It means that, does it not, that the apostolic bit, if it already exists, is something of a remnant. If so, isn't all ordination something of a neither here nor there?

I don't know the status of Carlton Pearson's ordination as bishop in the UUA. However, in that he is a one congregation minister, his title of Bishop is not functioning - a bishop to be a bishop ought to be a co-ordinator among more than one, to bring things together, and to have ministers in and around them. The Unitarian bishops in Kenya are bishops by the fact that this is what they do. My friend Helpme Mohrmen in India is something of a bishop too, by what he does among the Khasi churches, though he doesn't use the title. I like the name Bishop Helpme - that's about right.

Liberal Catholics will ordain using traditional rites in order to secure the ordination, and have it certificated, photographed, listed, deposited. Clearly this is not important to Unitarians. An aspect of Liberal Catholicism then is that ministry is acquired and passed on. To the extent that sacredness is a kind of ball you have and then pass on, then there is a clear difference. Unitarians (hopefully) grow towards the sacred - indeed the Protestants who became Free Catholic and Liberal Catholic grew into such sacredness before they joined that other definition of special sacredness, the one that is given over or handed on.

As liberals, Unitarians should support religious liberalism wherever it is found. Unitarian history at its margin does involve tipping over into the Catholic: this is a matter of record, and it is indeed one demonstrable line from Martineau (the other being pure subjectivism and arguably into liturgical postmodernism). Unitarians though are not into any 'off the peg' or magical or supernatural sacred, so that in that there is something sacred then the title ought to reflect what is being done.

Well, except that Unitarianism is so decentralised that it gets a bit chaotic, and there are many reasons to do many things, and Liberal Catholicism as a clergy-led entity are so few that titles may not reflect what actually goes on. But, also on a good Martineau principle, we are fuzzy about denominations and boundaries, and individuals can slip around one to the other.

Bishops who spend their time meeting up and reordaining each other, on a sort of negative dog-breeding principle of making themselves ever more mongrel-like in the breeds they represent, have little to do with Unitarianism. But developing the connection with the sacred, and facilitating by doing what bishops and priests do among those of diverse belief, is part of the Unitarian experience as things start to get more symbolic, seeking the sacred, and in developing facilitated communities.

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