Monday, March 30, 2015

Reflections on Parish Ministry

One thing that our suffragan bishop told me years ago that I have never forgotten was that it takes thick skin to make it in parish ministry. He was commenting on a priest he knew who excelled in academic gifts and personal holiness, but who, in his opinion, would probably never make it so well in parish ministry due to his thin skin and lack of worldly experience.

Parish ministry....

Curacies are pretty easy in my opinion. I have served two of them. The main thing about being a curate is knowing your place. The curate's job is support the rector who is his direct boss. The rector is the only person in the parish that the curate has to worry about keeping happy. And whenever anyone asks the curate of his opinion on some matter at the parish the curate's only response should be, "My opinion is that of the rector." The only problem a level-headed curate may have to deal with is a rector who is nuts or who is unfair and unethical. Thanks be to God, that is not a problem in the APA.

Being the rector or priest-in-charge is another ball game. The buck stops with you. Managing the personalities, eccentricities, and expectations of your people can be highly difficult... even annoying. One group people thinks the service is too long, others say it is fine, some say it is not long enough. Some people love incense, others like it sometimes, some hate sometimes, and others hate it all the time. One group loves chant, another hates it. Still others - lifelong Episcopalians - are not familiar with the word "chant." The same goes with music, sermon length, activities, politics, etc. While most Anglican parishes are small they are incredibly diverse, so managing that type of diversity, while keeping your eye on the prize of leading people to salvation in Jesus Christ, and keeping the place afloat, can be incredibly complex. Needless to say, not everyone is cut out to handle this.

Rectors need to develop a vision for their parish and have the guts to chart the course and make it happen, while keeping as many people on board as possible, and also, most importantly, maintaining fidelity to the words of the Ordinal. Some rectors are too heavy-handed, and their "my way or the highway" attitude ends up undermining them and hurting their parish and the ministry of the gospel. Others are too mamby-pamby and let cliques of people, or deep-pocketed parishioners run the show. He has to be focused on his mission and what is needed in his parish and chart the course and remain steady with it, despite criticism and even hatred and anger. That is what Jesus did in his ministry! So rectors, who minister in his person, must do the same.

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