What is a priest?

In terrific memoir Open Secrets, Richard Lischer describes the modern minister. He says, rightly so, that we too often become nothing more than a “quivering mass of availability.” That seems about right. We like to do the easy bits, but we priests don’t always want to do the hard things, and we sometimes don’t want to challenge people. As I’ve said before, we need to do this work. The church is about salvation, not just self-improvement.

The Anglican Centrist ties all this together nicely, in a posting on priestly vocation and leadership.

While the ministry of bishops and presbyters may well have therapeutic, prophetic, counter-cultural and mystical results, I would like to assert that bishops and priests are called to serve the whole baptised people of God as leaders with particular charisms of ministry which are not primarily therapy, prophesy, rebellion or mysticism. Moreover, it needs to be said that we in the Church are not merely participants in a gathering of like-minded folks with similar ideas and goals, who have organized ourselves with a form purely of our own devising.

No, we who believe we are living inside a reality shaped not by ourselves but by Jesus Christ, believe that we have been given a form that itself is shaped like the One who formed it. As Rowan Williams writes in his reflection on the work of Michael Ramsey,

“the Church is never left to reimagine itself or reshape itself according to its own priorities of the moment; for it to be itself, it has received those gifts that express and determine its essential self as a place where the eternal self-giving of Christ is happening in such a way as to heal and change lives.”

There it is. So if your priest isn’t focused on healing and changing lives, remind her or him of what it’s all about. If you, dear reader, are a priest, remember that our vocation is too important to stop our work with therapy and encouragement. Those things are necessary, but they’re only one bit of a larger purpose.

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1 Response

  1. Peter Carey says:


    Thanks; I really appreciated this posting…as one of those priests you are talking to…

    I had actually read the “quivering mass of availability” reference in a book by Will Willimon, (“Pastor”) in which he refers to Stanley Hauerwas saying the term…I actually blogged about it last summer: http://tinyurl.com/3wtaj7

    Anyway, whoever did say it is brilliant, and gives me much food for thought as I complete my first year of ordained ministry…thanks!


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