Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Priest v Minister

I have been reading with interest some of the exchanges on Lesley's Blog regarding what can be best summarised as the nature of ordained ministry. There seem to be a sense inside of the comments that she recieves that the ordained status 'priest' is losing the PR battle to status 'minister'. This has given me cause to reflect considerably, not least of all because I am saddened by this trend. 

To help those for whom this debate is as yet concealed, I will mercilessly paraphrase: as ordained people, we minister and are most appropriately to be called 'ministers'. The term 'priest' has unhelpful overtones of hierarchy, is outmoded and anyway, we are all ministers in the end, innit?

No, no, no, no, no and no. 

This is not a recent phenomenon, as Michael Ramsey reports in his most excellent book The Christian Priest Today in the sixties - as he recounts some causes for this 'lets not call ourselves priests, because it is unhelpful' behaviour:
 1. A reaction to hierarchy
 2. The fact that it isn't funky and hip and relevant to be called 'priest' these days
 3. An anti-institutional tendency in modern society

I can relate to (though not subscribe to) all of these views. There is a fashion among 'ministering Christians'  to tar with brushes - so the rather popular anti-catholic perspective which derides the liturgy-lot as outmoded, they take their preference for the use of the name 'priest' and deride it is as out-moded too. Write off the carflicks, write off their terminology ... it seems. 

For my part, I believe strongly in the following:
- All Christians are ministers, whether they 'do' or 'be', whether they are wardens or those who pray in private and silence for the needs of others - all are ministers. 
 - The Lord calls some to ordained ministry, and in accepting that call with joy or heaviness of heart, they agree to be made Deacon then ordained Priest. 
 - The Lord calls others to other valuable and necessary work, all of which holds an equal place in the life of the Body of Christ.
- The distictiveness of ordination is to be found in its role, it Charism and in its name - brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not, you are priests (wether you style yourself 'minister', 'pastor', 'presbyter' or 'cool Youth Vicar'). Its distinctiveness of role is what you submitted to at the point when you accepted your Calling. 
- Being a priest is far away from being the person in charge who gets to do all the 'good bits', though they have a very specific role that generates from the sacraments - (and as you consented to at your ordination, by the way)

I think that there is a kind of irrational fear or reaction surrounding Sacraments.  Furthermore, to be called a priest doesn't immediately imply that you wear a lacy cotta, have a penchant for Rosa Mystica and sing the Preface. A priest is just as capable of bopping up and down the aisle to the latest Matt Redman song, waving his/her arms around as the Spirit dictates, being 'down with the kids', subscribing to the world of Alfalpha and wearing jeans to church. Some caricature priesthood and then believe their own propaganda. It is quite wrong, quite mistaken, and liken to a disease that eats at the limbs of our august Body.

The church has millions of ministers (as I like to consider the great baptised of our world) - but it needs priests like it needs caretakers. Jesus called his disciples and he calls his priests. Let's face it, if we are ditching titles, the next to go is 'bishop'. The Minister of Buckingham and the Archminister of Canterbury? Is that what you want, 'cos that's what'll happen!


  1. Yep, agree totally - though one thought does occur to me that one is 'made deacon' not always to become Priest - it is a quirk of the way Anglican Orders tend to be viewed as a progression (or regression, depending on your viewpoint) from Deacon to Priest and perhaps Bishop. If we would argue for the distinctiveness of Priestly orders, then surely there should be a place for the distinctive Diaconate too...?

  2. Some of us have a little concern at the lack of any NT justification for a specific "caste" of priests... especially in the light of the "royal priesthood" stuff.... and wonder what happened to the ministries of Apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher etc... all of which were given "to equip God's people for acts of service" Seems they might be an answer to our problems?



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