Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Humility and Chutzpah

Last Friday night, we attended the ordination of a friend to the diaconate. Since it took place in New Hampshire, the presiding bishop was the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, doing what he was elected to do and loves best: simply being a bishop. (As he often remarks, if anyone wants to see what the church would be like when we've put the current issues behind us, they should come to New Hampshire...)

Characteristically, Gene reminded the candidate and the congregation that bishops, priests, and deacons are, in his opinion, the least among the ministries of the baptized. "Being ordained actually limits your opportunities for ministry," he remarked, standing in the center aisle only a few feet from the wide-eyed candidate and speaking directly to him, "because 99% of the ministry that is done in the world is done by them" - and he gestured toward the congregation. "Your job is to empower, help, and support them in recognizing and doing that work."

He went on to describe the work of a deacon as a combination of humility and chutzpah. The humility comes from recognizing oneself as a servant -- one whose job is to serve the poor, those in prison, those who are suffering. The chutzpah comes from having the courage to remind the rest of us that the poor, the friendless and the needy not only exist, but need our attention. Doing justice, and calling the Church to the work of justice, requires both humility and chutzpah.

Using one's gifts fully is part of our responsibility as God's children, he added. Being humble doesn't mean hiding our gifts, but using them appropriately and in balance - in other words, knowing one's place in the world and acting out of that knowledge. That's true for ordained people, and also true for those of us who have already been ordained to the priesthood of all believers by virtue of our baptism - the "ordination" he considers most important of all.

Gene was speaking about the concept of servant leadership, an idea that comes from Jesus's own comments about himself being "the least among you" when the disciples, to his dismay, began squabbling over who would get to sit on his right hand in heaven. 2000 years of Institutional Church later, servant leadership is still a pretty radical concept, but one that is gaining ground among both clergy and laity. There are plenty of clergy who are very threatened by the concept of sharing their traditional authority -- let alone ceding some of it --to the laity, and who do not see the work of the laity as primary at all. But as seminary enrollment declines, churches close, and the world becomes a more anxious and chaotic place, it seems to me that ALL of us bear increasing responsibility for sharing "the priesthood of all believers" and seeing our whole lives as opportunities for ministry.

Do you agree? If you are clergy, how do you see the changing role of those in ordained ministry? If you are a lay person, do you see aspects of your life as ministry? What sort of support do you need or want in order to do this work more effectively in today's world?

--Beth Adams


Earl said...

But of course, it's like any big organization or bureaucracy - the people at the bottom do all the work - lol!!! (I'll try to post something more serious demain!)


Vivian said...

If we really believed in servant leadership someone would have taken the time to print out the letter (see previous post) and offer it to the parishioners of the Cathedral to be signed by them, as we agreed at our parish Forum would be done. Instead of letting the Clericus speak for all!
More seriously/thoughtfully... Herbie Alphonso SJ has a little book on "Your Personal Vocation" whose premise is that one's vocation is where one is most fully alive, and that this is always exactly where we have our lifespring, i.e., in our relationship with CreationItself/ with our Maker as we know that source. With the wellspring of life. For Christians it is signed with the Cross as the ultimate form of self-giving, and not in a masochistic way but as a token of utter generosity. If I personally experience that life as infinitely patient, for instance, I might find myself called to be abundantly patient and also find a life practice of this this calling that consistently transports me into joyfulness and energy; perhaps the prophets felt the Divine as infinitely *Impatient!* This would not be a contradition either, because our God surpasses and embraces contraditions in one Being. So the test of our calling is not in the job description we end up performing but in the quality of life and joy we are given in our carrying it out. And part of that joy is to know that what we receive is only a part of the whole. Leading us back to humility (to be part of the whole) and chutzpah (to be boldly alive in showing forth the gift/life given to us each in our unique way).

Jonathan said...

I guess we're talking a bit about where the line gets drawn. It certainly seems in style to push that line in the direction of the laity, and to talk about the clergy giving up ground. But is that because of a shrinking church and the clergy simply shriveling away? Is it because laity has something to offer that the clergy doesn't?
I feel that it's the clergy's role to basically be the forward thinkers, to be the questioners, and the clarifiers of what is going on in society and where we fit (or don't fit) into the picture. The laity are the people who have the ability to go out and act – or not act. As laity it's our obligation to consider what we hear and try and move on what we are convinced are the important issues.
The clergy is in the position of both being able to point out those issues and make us think (and act?). That seems like pretty important roles for both.

Beth said...

Thanks, Earl, humor is always good! And I do hope you'll write something more on this topic.

Vivian, it's great to see you here, thanks for these thoughtful comments about personal vocation and its relation to humility and chutzpah - discovering one's vocation seems to be quite difficult for many people - do you think this is one of the ways spiritual direction can help?

(I need to add that a letter from the parishioners of the Cathedral WAS printed and signed by many, and sent in accompaniment to the other one from the clergy. Not being here that week, I'm not sure of the details, but I know it happened, as is mentioned in the previous post.)

Jonathan, you bring up important points. Do we see the clergy as taking the lead as visionaries, societal critics, and leaders? Gene's instruction to the candidate to "do justice" and "inspire others to do justice" would seem to indicate that. The clergy I most admire are certainly inspirational leaders and thinkers...and they are people who have also "walked the walk," putting themselves on the line.

Patrick Wedd said...

In fact, I presented a letter for approval at the May 23 meeting of Parish Forum - the letter was strongly supported, and a printed version was at worship on Sunday May 27 gleaned 54 signatures and was sent the following week to Canterbury. It was precicely because of my constant gratitude to and pride in our Cathedral clergy for their unstinting support and for their unswerving committment to justice and equality issues that I felt that we lay folk should also express our concern and outrage. I have never been a person to "soapbox" about my sexuality, but I see that, unless we make our voices heard,the very vocal evangelical right will win the day.

The text of the letter follows:

27 May 2007

The Most Rev’d and Rt. Hon. Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace
Lambeth Palace Road
London, SEI 7JU

Your Grace,

We, the people of Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, Canada, wish to express our outrage and disappointment at your decision to not invite Bishop Gene Robinson to the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

We believe that, at this time in the life of the Anglican Church, it is important that all voices be heard. The exclusion of Bishop Robinson is not only a personal insult but also an affront to the Churches of North America and particularly to our gay and lesbian members.

We hope that you will reconsider this decision, and indeed “make room for everyone at the table.”

With respect,

Bill said...


I agree with Gene Robinson that ordination does limit somewhat the opportunities and scope of activity for the clergy, especially in an increasingly secular society such as Quebec. Any suggestion of clericalism here is definitely out of place. The "dog collar" or religious habit are two examples. While they give visibility, they also may set up barriers for some people. I think it was unfortunate that when women were first ordained in the Anglican Church, they adopted male clerical attire, for example, the "dog collar." It would have been better to have dropped it entirely.

The increasing importance of lay readers also needs to be acknowledged. Some dioceses, like Quebec, now rely upon them. We need to make better use of them here in Montreal. We are increasingly relying on retired clergy to supply our rural parishes.

Again, why do we dress our lay readers in surplice and preaching scarf, the former vestments of Anglican clergy before the eucharistic vestments were generally adopted? They are LAY readers, not lay persons in the guise of clerics!

Gene Robinson's remarks should occasion some serious reflection on the increasing role of the laity in the church today.


Beth said...

Patrick, how wonderful that you took the initiative on this letter. Thanks for posting the text and giving us some context. I hope other communities have done, or will do, likewise...

Bill, interesting point! I wonder what female priests could have worn as an alternative. Any ideas? And why DO we dress lay readers in vestments?

It seems to me that we have always expected too much of the clergy: having known many in my family and as friends, my impression is that it is a very difficult and often lonely and thankless job. Of course there's a flip side, which caused the Roman Catholic rebellion in Quebec. But in our church today, those questions of over-reaching clerical authority are pretty moot.

I feel, personally, that I would like more discussion about the ministry we do in our daily lives. I've come to see my personal blog as a ministry. My writing is a ministry. Even my work as a businessperson is a ministry, though it took me years to see it! but this discernment is often a lonely thing, as the work itself can be. Ministry is both satisfying and difficult - which is why +Gene told the candidate he ought to be very scared at the step he was taking!! I wonder if as a community of both lay and clergy members we could intentionally help one another more in integrating our daily life and work with our spiritual lives.

Bill said...


Your question, What would I suggest that female clergy wear when they are not vested? Probably a business suit and a pectoral cross or perhaps a lapel pin.

Members of a number of Roman Catholic religious orders now wear this. Mother Teresa of Calcutta's Sisters of Charity have adopted the sari, which I think is both practical and distinctive!

Regarding lay readers' attire, the surplice is a medieval vestment which was worn in choir by both clergy and laymen.

The name comes from medieval Latin superpelliceum, literally [worn] "over a fur robe." It originated in northern Europe because the churches were not heated in the winter.

Its precise significance today escapes me, except that it goes well with gothic architecture and the mentality that so often accompanies it!


Earl said...

Chiming in a little late. But here's a few cents worth. I find the dicotemy we are trying to establish between us (laity) and they (clergy) a little disingenuous. The top dog in an organization has always set the direction (after considering the advice of advisors), and the employees carry out the work. It has been thus for thousands of years and I don't think it is going to change. (Unless we establish a co-op - something Jesus didn't do - he still gave the direction.)

That being said, we are all in this together and I think we all feel we're in a servant/leadership situation and it seems to me in my first year or so at the Cathredal that we are all helping each other in our roles and ministries. I just don't think we should try setting boundries or parameters for each other's work. Let's not get distracted from the work at hand (something I heard from the Bishop in the pulpit, albeit in a different context late last fall- lol).

I heartily endorse Dean Michael's support of Crossan and his take on the Gospels. He is such an illuminating writer. I'm reading "Who Killed Jesus" and I loved the distinction Crossan makes early on between the types of ministry of John the Baptist (apocalyptic eschatology - "we are waiting for God to act") and Jesus (sapiential eschatology - "God waiting for us to act"). Thank God we belive in the second. (Most so-called Christians would be better discribed as follows of John the Baptist rather than Jesus!!!)

How do I make my witness in everyday life? By worshiping regularly at the Cathedral, donating a part of my income to the parish, singing in the Choir, reading theology, debating theology with friends, sharing my discoveries and insights with friends and members of the church community, entertaining friends and members of the church community, praying, paricipating in church functions, debates, taking the Education for Ministry course, but mostly by trying to show to everyone with whom I come into contact that the Light exists and is real in each and everyone of us.

Last point, I don't think we should dictate or suggest what women priests should wear. A business suit is about an masculin as you can get. They should wear what they want. (I couldn't find any advice on this in the Gospels -lol.)

Cheers! Earl

(oh yes, religionless religion, - I agree - most of the people whom I know who consider themselves spiritual won't use either term in other than a pejorative context - they prefer "spirituality".)