Local Ministry
 
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EXTRACT FROM COMMENTS ON 'LOCAL MINISTRY'
Following enquiry from a learned colleague.

........"I ask myself why I view with suspicion the current moves towards what the Church speaks of as 'Local' ministry, whether Priestly or Lay. It may be because it "was not like that in my time" - a common characteristic of those approaching senility. On the other hand, it is change, not tradition which has to prove itself since change can be for better or worse.

Another reason may be that I was brought up in Congregationalism in which the principal characteristic was that every 'Church' was, at least in theory, self-governing. Certainly we never saw any equivalent of a Bishop. The 'Moderator' was little more than a registrar of vacant ministerial appointments who could only advise. We were aware- just- of other Congregational churches but contact with them was very rare. The result of this was some distinctly odd forms of worship and of theology.

One of the principal realisations which resulted in my 'conversion' to the Scottish Episcopal Church was that of the Catholicity of THE Church. My concern at this time is in seeing the Anglican Communion sliding into a form of Congregationalism by an over-emphasis on Local Ministry. I do not think that it is too fanciful to see in the future, a Church congregation consisting of a 'Locally Ordained Priest' assisted by Lay Pastoral Assistants. The L.O.P could not be moved because either his/her licence would have to be withdrawn or his/her co-operation in relocating him/herself would be necessary. I cannot imagine that either course would be achieved smoothly.

If the L.O.P turned out to be a 'goodie' then the local congregation is in danger of regarding him/her as 'our priest' (for ever- after the order of Melchizedek!) There are signs of this happening here. Last week, someone  said to me "Of course, we shall always have Edward." If the priest turns out to be a 'baddie', then I do not need to spell out possible consequences.

Regarding Lay Pastoral Assistants experience here would suggest that the majority of those appointed are women whereas a balance is necessary.

Obviously these will tend to be either retired or rich, often retired teachers who are missing their charges, or who are 'concerned for the poor and needy'.

"I do not want visits from a bunch of holy women" is something which has already come my way.

I do not know what training is given to postulant L.P.A's, but one gets the feeling that their initial qualifications are principally availability and being well known in the parish. "He/she's lived here all his/her life - he/she knows everybody". That is not necessarily a good C.V. He/she may know everybody - but everybody knows him/her. One of the qualifications for the pastoral ministry is that of being able to dissociate one's own personality and one's own history from the situation. I am well aware that it would be extremely difficult for me to hear the confessions, either formally or informally, of some of my former engineering colleagues because they know too much about me and could not be expected to distinguish between the person and the priest. I won't go into detail!

Another danger lies in the way that L.P.A's may be used. In one area they are sent out two by two, in good scriptural fashion, but to administer the Sacrament to the elderly. The fact that this means that some recipients hardly ever receive the Sacrament from the hands of a priest does not seem to matter to the local Vicar who may well be doing things that he could better delegate to L.P.A's and which would be done more competently by them.

I feel, too, that it is essential that any form of Christian ministry must be based on a sound theology. By that I do not mean a purely academic theology, but what the word really means, awareness of the 'word and the revelation of God'. I fear that the training, such as it is, offered to postulant L.P.A's may be inadequate in this respect. To the many who have been brought up with the idea that personal vocation and loving your neighbour, combined with a pious attitude on Sunday, is ALL that matters, their path may be difficult when faced with those who have no vocation and who hate the bloke next door, but who need the pastoral ministry more than most.

In my experience, at least 50% of one's pastoral ministry is to those whose experience of the rough, tough world is very real - more so that many who would minister to them. One is reminded of the learned Judge who decided to give an old Irish Tinker a last chance after his being found guilty of being drunk and disorderly. "I'm not sending you to prison," said his honour, "on one condition. It is that from now on you keep off drink completely and entirely, not even the teeniest, weeniest dry sherry before dinner."

My other concern in the matter is the opportunism which of recent years has been used to solve situations which, had they been anticipated with wisdom, could have been better handled.

What it all comes down to is the shortage of priests. This is due to a combination of increased costs, many retirements and shortage of vocations. These three are inextricably linked.

Instead of the Church's facing the crisis realistically, people have been misled into thinking that this sort of change is not only inevitable, but is a 'movement of the Spirit' offering unprecedented opportunities for Lay Ministry, and, let's face it, the priesthood of women. I have no theological objection to the ministry of women, but its imposition on the Church as an opportunist answer to crisis under pressure from the feminist lobby is not a good reason.

The L.P.A., unpaid and therefore part-time and under no ultimate discipline, is no substitute for the vocational priest acting as a priest. To pretend that it is may be convenient, but it is a dangerous supposition.

WJG. 24.1.01

The Estate of William John Green, 2004