Gems from Jim+

October 2, 2022

Priests have been part of the Church since the Third Century, when bishops delegated their authority to provide day-to-day pastoral support to congregations to “presbyters.” The presbyter then would be responsible for “teaching and preaching, administration, and sacramental ministry, under the oversight of the bishop.” That remains the core of our work as presbyters (“priests”), much of which is very visible to the congregations, such as presiding at the Holy Eucharist, conducting Bible studies, providing pastoral care, and officiating at weddings and funerals. But much of our lives and work as priests is less visible. So let me offer a few random insights into less apparent aspects of our work and experience as priests:

We are never “not priests.” In any relationship with a parishioner, we are first their priests. Which means we never become Facebook friends with current parishioners. Which means whenever and wherever we are with a parishioner, regardless of setting or occasion, we are at work. We have to be “on,” mindful of what we say and hear. And a second glass of wine is not an option.

Similarly, our public behavior reflects on our parish, the Church, our faith, and the priesthood in general. The priesthood is a “great trust and responsibility,” and we must live our lives as “a wholesome example” to our people and community.

Our authority as priests derives from the bishop. We work with, but not for a church’s wardens and vestry.  In our “teaching and preaching, administration, and sacramental ministry” we are under the oversight of the bishop.

We have the authority and privilege to proclaim God’s forgiveness to a repentant sinner and send them on their way unburdened by their past sins and restored in right relation with God. We can bless, exhort, and excommunicate (i.e., deny communion), but exorcism requires the express consent and direction of the bishop.

We are tasked with instructing our congregations in Scripture, in the teaching, doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church, and in stewardship, as well as in the ministry of all baptized persons. Our duties also include preparing people for Baptism, Confirmation, Reception, Reaffirmation, and Marriage.

Much of our time is devoted to administration, as we are responsible for supervising all staff and volunteers.

We are required, too, to maintain a Registry of Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, and Burial, as well as record of all services, and share the responsibility with the Vestry of assuring all required reports are properly submitted to the Diocese and Episcopal Church.

And because we need a Sabbath like everyone else, but work on Sunday, we try to avoid parish work at least one day a week, but never on Sunday.

Being a priest is a great gig. And we hope it shows.

September 18, 2022

What struck me most among many striking things in the ongoing remembrance and celebration of the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth has been the recollection of her deep faith in Jesus Christ. And, officially, she was “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” Thus, she not only was head of state, but also head of the Church.

That combination of authority over church and nation was repugnant to our founding fathers. That was made explicit in our Constitution, which prohibits the establishment of a state religion like the Church of England and guarantees us the free exercise of our religion. The experience of oppressive state religion and severe penalties for prohibited religious practice were too fresh in their memories to leave religious freedom to chance. They also realized that even our young nation was already pluralistic, harboring not only Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, but also Jews and Muslims. Thus, despite current popular sentiments to the contrary, they never saw the United States as an expressly Christian nation. But they did see us as a Godly nation (“In God we trust”), and many provisions of our foundational documents reflect Christian values.

But when we hear the emerging strains of so-called “Christian nationalism,” we might ask whether that is either patriotic or Christian? Christian nationalism envisions a nation governed by Christians according to Christian religious doctrines and dictates. This can seem an attractive idea for Christians, and, in reality, the overwhelming Christian predominance in our population and in our government offices has resulted in our being de facto, if not constitutionally or legally, very much a Christian nation in our laws and practice. But an effort to establish Christianity as a state religion and impose supposedly Christian laws on everyone would be something else.  And it poses challenging questions for us as Christians.

We believe deeply in our faith and its values. And it would be convenient to live in a nation that subscribed to our values and ethical dictates. On the other hand, we are citizens and patriots of a nation that has embraced religious liberty. Here are four considerations that might inform our musings:

  1. When governments secure the blessing of religion to legitimate their laws and policies, and/or religions secure the power of government to enforce their moral edicts, history suggests that religious oppression is the likely outcome.
  2. Patriotism generally is considered a virtue in Christian morality (“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” Romans 13:1), but purely national interests always must give way to our faith and obligations as followers of Christ.
  3. We will always gain insight by placing ourselves in the position of a religious minority. Indeed, white Christians now constitute less than 50 per cent of our population.
  4. Our faith be so compelling that it should stand on its own without need to be propped up or propagated by a purportedly secular government.

What do you think? We would love to know your musings and reflections.

September 4, 2022

Tomorrow is Labor Day, the national holiday celebrating the social and economic achievements of American workers. As one of the collects in an Order for Compline acknowledges we are sustained by God’s “unfailing providence” and in our common life “depend on each other’s toil.” (BCP 134) This is something we all know, but it rarely is the subject of deep reflection. We just take it for granted without realizing that we are incredibly dependent on God and others in our communities for our lives and sustenance –recent disruptions in the supply chains of some necessities of life and comfort notwithstanding. Still, as followers of Christ, we might consider that this is something important to our lives and prompts some serious moral contemplation. And, happily, we need only turn to our prayer book for some worthy insights into several of the more prominent issues.

In the collect for Labor Day (BCP 210), for example, we acknowledge our life in community:

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives.

Consequently, whatever our personal motivation may be, our work never is for us alone or for our personal enrichment, but for the common good. This also suggests that we all must work because we all necessarily and inevitably are part of a community that depends upon each of us to do our part. Nonetheless, we recognize that for any number of valid reasons (e.g., age, youth, illness, infirmity), a few may be unable to work and should not be expected to work, but still may enjoy the benefits of the community’s labor. Drawing the line can be difficult, but if community is to have meaning, everyone in the community who is willing to work deserves its support.

Similarly, all are due a “proper return” for their labor (BCP 210). If community is to mean anything, then only a “living wage” should be considered a proper return. No one should be expected to work for the community’s wellbeing without some assurance that their basic needs will be met by the community. By the same token, huge wage disparities must be viewed with an eye towards any injustice that might result. Again, this may impose some difficult calculations on the community, but that is no reason to shirk our responsibilities as a community.

Another dimension of labor in community is providing avenues for every individual to identify and develop their particular, God-given talents and skills not only for the benefit of the community, but also for fulfilment of their own “rightful aspirations.” (BCP 10) The community should embrace the freedom of self-determination, eliminate invidious discrimination, and offer the opportunity for everyone to gain the knowledge and hone the skills that will enable them to be an authentic asset to the community – and to be a child of God who has developed rather than squandered the gifts and talents God has given them.

One final note about labor. The creation story notes that God rested on the seventh day, teaching us that rest is a basic human need. We need Sabbath, a day to set distractions aside, a day to let God in through prayer and worship, a day to give our minds and bodies a break. As essential as labor is, all work and no play is a poor play. It denies who we are no less than failing to work as we are gifted and able.

August 21, 2022

One of the sharpest distinctions between the Anglican/Episcopal tradition and the Roman Catholic tradition involves Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, these distinctions never ought to obscure the considerable areas of agreement between the two traditions. This all comes to mind because last Monday, August 15, was a day on which both Episcopalians and our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers celebrate Mary, albeit in slightly, but significantly different ways.

In our Episcopal calendar, we observe the feast of Saint Mary the Virgin. On the Roman Catholic calendar, August 15 is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, which celebrates the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven. Notably, the Roman Catholic dogma that Mary was assumed bodily to heaven was proclaimed in 1950 by Pope Pius XII ex cathedra, meaning the pronouncement is considered infallible and that belief in the Assumption must be accepted by Roman Catholics. It is one of only two historical incidences that are widely accepted as instances in which a pope spoke infallibly. The other was the proclamation by Pope Pius IX in 1854 that Mary was conceived without blemish of original sin, known now as the Immaculate Conception. Thus, in the Roman Catholic tradition, Mary enjoys a very special and very unique place among the saints of the Church.

For Episcopalians, the belief that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven remains only a pious opinion, as does Mary’s perpetual virginity. Neither belief is essential to our faith. The Anglican tradition finds a lack of support in Scripture for these beliefs. And embracing them is further complicated by our reluctance to accept the infallibility of the pope, a doctrine that underlies each of these declared aspects of Mary’s life.

 Nonetheless, Mary is considered highly esteemed among the saints and an object of veneration, as she has been since the time of the apostles. Her humility and obedience as the mother of Jesus remains a most powerful example for all.  So, for us, August 15 is celebrated simply as the feast of Saint Mary the Virgin. And it is listed in the Book of Common Prayer among “other major feasts of the Church.

Her prominence in the life of Jesus, as set forth in Scripture, is common to both traditions, and revered by both. According to An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, Mary’s presence in Scripture includes “her betrothal to Joseph; the annunciation by the angel that she would be the mother of the Messiah; her visit to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; the birth of Jesus; the visits of the shepherds and the wise men; the presentation of Jesus in the temple; the flight into Egypt; the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old; the wedding at Cana; an occasion when Mary and Jesus’ brothers asked to speak to him while he was speaking to the people; the crucifixion when Jesus commended her to John, and the meeting with the apostles in the upper room after the Ascension.”

As recognized in the ongoing dialogue between the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches, “The scriptural witness summons all believers in every generation to call Mary ‘blessed’” And that is something we can agree on that only can draw us closer to together.