#faithseeking: petertide

and so

we’ve arrived at Petertide, one of the two times of the year that the church reserves for ordaining those who have been prepared for diaconal and priestly ministry. i’m not sure how many of those from the South West that i have taught are due to be ordained this weekend, although as far as i can tell there are no ordinations happening in Exeter, only Truro. my Manchester people all have at least another year of training.

the PD and i will be at St Paul’s Cathedral today to see our friend James become deacon and then Peterborough Cathedral tomorrow to witness our friend Dom doing the same. for me it’s a time of year that brings my struggles with the C of E into sharp focus: on the one hand, it’s a great festival, the culmination and celebration of the obedience, self-sacrifice and hard work that training for ministry requires. However, on the other, it means another cycle of talented, enthusiastic and inspired disciples of Christ and servants of his Church committing themselves to a structure of authority that i continue to find troubling.

this weekend, ordinands in cathedrals up and down the country will solemnly pledge allegiance to the crown and obedience to their bishop, and will confirm their commitment to live ‘within the discipline’ of Issues in Human Sexuality (the Church’s hugely flawed and woefully out of date policy document on sexuality). although the agreement to ‘live within the discipline’ of Issues… is less profound than the other promises to defer to ecclesiastical and royal authority (at least for straight people), it’s actually the one that bothers me the most.

i think it’s the insidious nature of the assent. while i know many priests and deacons who profoundly disagree with Issues…, all of them have made this formal gesture of conformity to its pattern. the way it’s done seems to basically reflect the assumption that if you’re normal (primarily read ‘straight’) then accepting to live out your sexuality in the way the document describes will not be an ‘issue’ for you, and therefore that only those for whom this norm does not compute will encounter a stumbling block. the problem is that in and behind the document all kinds of problematic theological ideas and assumptions lurk, many of which were reaffirmed in the recent and equally risible response to the government consultation on same-sex marriage.

it seems to me that the assent to Issues… goes significantly beyond an agreement not to do certain things, and therefore, i’m always left wondering how effectively priests and deacons can really challenge the Church from the inside to do the much needed work of re-thinking its position on sex, sexuality and gender  if in order to get into the club they have first to agree to be disciplined by the current and shambolic accepted ‘wisdom’. it also seems to me that this is one area in which, given the status quo the laity must minister to and on behalf of the clergy – to call the Church out from under the blanket of shadowy assumptions and theological contortions that make up its ‘stance’ on these issues and into a proper, honest, open and most importantly shared conversation.

anyway, here ends the gloom.

by way of a semi-antidote (santidote) here’s a poem that i like (except for the line about medication):


Priestly Duties: A Poem by Stewart Henderson

What should a priest be?
All things to all
male, female and genderless

What should a priest be?
Reverent and relaxed
vibrant in youth
assured through the middle years
divine sage when ageing

What should a priest be?
Accessible and incorruptible
abstemious, yet full of celebration
informed but not threateningly so
and far above the passing soufflé of fashion

What should a priest be?
An authority on singleness
Solomon-like on the labyrinth of human sexuality
excellent with young marrieds, old marrieds,
were marrieds, never marrieds, shouldn’t have marrieds,
those who live together, those who live apart,
and those who don’t live anywhere
respectfully mindful of senior citizens and war veterans
familiar with the ravages of arthritis,
osteoporrosis, post natal depression, anorexia,
whooping cough and nits.

What should a priest be?
All round family person,
Counsellor, but not officially because of recent changes in legislation,
teacher, expositor, confessor, entertainer, juggler,
good with children, and possibly sea lions,
empathetic towards pressure groups.

What should a priest be?
On nodding terms with Freud, Jung, St John of The Cross,
The Scott Report, The Rave Culture, The Internet,
The Lottery, BSE and Anthea Turner,
pre modern, fairly modern, postmodern,
and ideally secondary modern
if called to the inner city.

What should a priest be?
Charismatic, if needs must, but quietly so,
evangelical, and thoroughly
meditative, mystical but not New Age
liberal and so open to other voices
traditionalist, reformer and revolutionary
and hopefully not on medication
unless for an old sporting injury.

Note to congregations: If your priest actually fulfils
all of the above, and then enters the pulpit one Sunday
morning wearing nothing but a shower cap, a fez, and declares
“I’m the King and Queen of Venus, and we shall now sing
the next hymn in Latvian, take your partners, please”. –
let it pass – like you and I they too sew
the thin thread of humanity.
Remember Jesus in the Garden
– beside himself.

What does a priest do?
Mostly stays awake at Deanery synods
tries not to annoy the Bishop too much
visits hospices, administers comfort
conducts weddings, christenings,
not necessarily in that order,
takes funerals
consecrates the elderly to the grave
buries children, and babies
feels completely helpless beside
the swaying family of a suicide,
sometimes is murdered at night, alone.

What does a priest do?
Tries to colour in God
uses words to explain miracles
which is like teaching a centipede to sing
but even more difficult.

What does a priest do?
Answers the phone
when sometimes they’d rather not,
occasionally errs and strays into tabloid titillation
prays for Her Majesty’s Government

What does a priest do?
Tends the flock through time, oil and incense
would secretly like each PCC
to commence with a mud pie making contest
sometimes falls asleep when praying
yearns like us for heart rushing deliverance

What does a priest do?
Has rows with their family
wants to inhale Heaven
stares at bluebells
attempts to convey the mad love of God
would like to ice skate with crocodiles,
and hear the roses when they pray

How should a priest live?
How should we live?
As priests, transformed by the Priest
that death prised open
so that he could be our priest
martyred, diaphanous and matchless priest
What should a priest be?
What should a priest do?
How should a priest live?

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