A Word from the Dean
from the July 9/16, 2017 Adventurer
A distinction can be made between clergy and laity that is unhelpful. No doubt the two have different functions, but are rarely seen as parts of a body working together. One, the roles can be crassly described as payer and provider: the laity pay the clergy to do the work of ministry. Two, clergy have perpetuated the (false) idea that our function is primarily sacerdotal: without me you can’t have access to God’s grace because only I can officiate at the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Of course, neither of these ideas can be found in the Bible, but it is easy for churches to slip into this duality.
We find a biblical model for local church ministry in Ephesians 4, where Paul writes that it is the job of the pastor to equip the saints for ministry. The clergy are to disciple the laity in order for the ministry to be done. Ministry is not the domain of the professional, but all who have been given new life in Jesus Christ. Ministry is to be relational and is the work of both clergy and lay. What then is the specific work of the clergy?
We can see what Anglicanism thought the clergy’s function to be by looking at the architecture of churches. Until the mid-19th century, Anglican churches were marked by an imposing (often central) pulpit and a modest Communion table; such an arrangement seems strange to us. One of the most striking pulpits in England is that of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. When one looks for the pulpit, it is not where one would expect it. It is not central, but sends a definitive message about the role of a clergyperson. The pulpit is in the midst of the congregation. The preacher comes up out of the congregation in order to preach the word of God. He is their parson, originating from the Latin persona, meaning person. He is the person who has been set aside by the congregation to pastor them and represent them in the ministry of God’s word, equipping them for ministry.
This idea has been largely lost in the church today, but I was encouraged when I found some old stationary belonging to Hugh Agricola, Rector of the Advent in the 1970s. There was a silhouette of him at one of the reading desks, and it read “Elsie and your parson are praying for you.” How beautiful, how appropriate, and how Anglican.