Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Journey With Matthew - Day 36

Whenever this text is read in public worship (as it will be in November) Episcopalians always hone in on the part about not calling anyone "father" on earth since you have only one heavenly Father.

Personally I'm not crazy about being called father although some Episcopalians (mostly former Roman Catholics) insist on it. Most people just call me "Rich," which is what I prefer. I'm snobbishly Anglican enough to insist that "the Reverend" is a modifier, not a title, even thought many fellow Protestants (mis)-use it: it's The Reverend Mr. or Ms. so and so, not Reverend John. But that's a losing battle...

Half of the clergy in my diocese are women. Some of them are called Mother, but many of them would rather not be given all the Freudian stuff it kicks up. My feeling is that we should avoid "Father" unless we are equally comfortable with "Mother." I think here the Protestants do get it right and I wish we could use the more gender-neutral "Pastor" for everyone. But in my experience women priests are more successful than male priests in the Episcopal Church at making this change. And the truth is that it doesn't really get one around the point here that Jesus is making other than in the most literal of ways: the ring of "Pastor says this..." and "Pastor says that..." is just as problematic as Father or Mother, in my view. So I'm just Rich - Canon Rich now for those who insist I need a title, which gets me right back into the same mess.

By any title, the issue raised here is the same. How do we balance - or maybe the better word is integrate - the work that the ordained are called to do with the primary calling that comes to us by name through Baptism? I find that as challenging as that was as a parish priest, over a long-term ministry it became easier for me. People got to know me for who I am. I've kind of hit "re-set" in my new role - and whether I like it or not when I walk into a room I'm not just "Rich" but "the Bishop's person."

Here is what I know. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I know clergy don't often feel very powerful, but every time we put a collar or our vestments on we represent something bigger than ourselves - and that can be dangerous on all sides. It's tempting to fall into the trap of feeling "above contradiction" - of pulling out the "I went to seminary did you?" card. It's tempting to feel entitled to the places of honor, such as they are, in the Church.

So there is a reason, on Maundy Thursday, that the introduction in The Book of Occasional Services,to the foot-washing says:
Fellow servants of our Lord Jesus Christ: On the night
before his death, Jesus set an example for his disciples by
washing their feet, an act of humble service. He taught that
strength and growth in the life of the Kingdom of God come
not by power, authority, or even miracle, but by such lowly
service. We all need to remember his example, but none
stand more in need of this reminder than those whom the
Lord has called to the ordained ministry.
(emphasis mine)

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