(Photo of the hatch to the crawl space under my house)
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the
foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself
being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together
in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a
holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
--Collect, Proper 8, Book of Common Prayer, P. 230
We encountered this Sunday in the church year about the same time I was reading William Countryman's take on "The two priesthoods in the church." What I found most interesting is how there's some confusion among all of us about the ordained priesthood and our fundamental priesthood.
I thought the hatch to the crawl space under my house was a perfect metaphor for our fundamental priesthood. It's very nondescript, you might miss it if you walked around the house too quickly, and it does take a little effort to get into the foundation of the house. When you get there, it might seem a little dark and scary. Yet we quietly trust it to support the weight of our entire house!
Our "fundamental priesthood" is rooted in something very simple--our desire to interact with God in an intimate way, and God's desire to interact with us in a similar fashion. But what we discover, when we actually start developing an awareness of that, a need for community grows from that. Our fundamental priesthood does not require religion, but the religious community is the setting in which this desire can be most recognizably expressed in community.
However, to hear these messages and follow them takes us into some dark and scary places. What is ultimately scary is not as much a function of our powerlessness as it is the discovery that the power we have is a shared one--that it is not a function of solely ourselves. It means really taking our Baptismal Covenant seriously.
This, I think, is where the ordained priesthood gets confused with this fundamental one.
Countryman, in his book "Living on the Border of the Holy," spends a lot of time illustrating what the ordained priesthood is not, and unfortunately, it encompasses a lot of what various laity ascribe to priests. Ordained priesthood is an act of being a live sacrament. Yet over the years we have ascribed functions to it such as parental, iconic, and that of the "better" or "more learned" Christian. We tend to want our priests to be walking religious wikis, business managers, and codependent servants. We expect them to behave in a certain way, look a certain way, or act a certain way, even if there's nothing wrong with how they are behaving, looking, or acting, "Because they're priests."
On the other hand, some of the ordained, I believe, also don't get this straight at times. Their separation as a sacramental person sometimes gets misinterpreted as classism or elitism, and they do things at times that treat the laity's fundamental priesthood scornfully. Sometimes I think some priests get confused that their sacramental priesthood means their fundamental priesthood must step aside, and they become so concerned about their identity being defined by their ordained priesthood, they become shadows of the wonderful fundamental priests they always were.
I find that last one particularly sad. It's the one I have most commonly encountered when I am at loggerheads with the ordained. I have thought many times about that in my parallel world of "doctor." A big portion of who I am is because I took an oath to be obedient to something bigger than me. Yet, I cringe when doctors do things like get their oil changed at the garage and insist on everyone in the garage knowing they are "Dr. So-and-so." I never do that--I just give them my name. You see, fundamentally that's who I am, and it's not necessary I put my white coat around their necks and pull. They will discover it when they discover it.
I think that's where it gets confusing for the ordained. In the Episcopal Church, although we are slowly getting away from using the "Father" and "Mother" titles, we do dress them up in shiny stuff on Sundays, and they do wear clericals in various public places as an outward sign of their obedience to the Church. I tend to be an astute observer of how different priests and deacons deal with that. I have met people who hide behind their clericals, chafe beneath them, and ones who have ripped their collar off and beaten me over the head with it, or snuck behind me and shoved it up my butt when I wasn't looking. I have met people who I can see their fundamental priesthood despite their clericals, and ones who wear them like a suit of armor. I have met people who are so comfortable in their clerical skin they glow--scars and all.
Mostly, I've come to realize there's a dynamic tension between the ordained priesthood and the fundamental one, and that's mostly okay. But the health in it is realizing the humanity in all of it. I think the ordained have to accept healthy laity are ok with the ordained's human flaws. I think the laity have to accept that the ordained have an extra struggle living in the skin of their own fundamental priesthood while wearing the outward signs of the ordained one. Otherwise, needy clergy becomed threatened by laity who literally wear their fundamental priesthood like a shiny white alb, and needy laity look to the clergy to do what they can't--or won't--do.
It all starts, however, with all of us in the community being in tune with our fundamental priesthood.