There is no greater privilege for a priest than “The Cure of Souls”.  There’s a monument on the wall of the church here in memory of William Franklin, who served this parish as rector for two years in the 1850s. He died young and was obviously loved dearly. His name is on a stained glass window, once in the old church and now in the sacristy. Only three clergy have monuments in the “new” church, built in the 188os. One was a former dean of Nashotah House, then bishop of Northern Indiana and finally an assistant priest here. The other is to Father Eyrick who was rector for thirty-six years.

In differing ways and times these men earned the affection and respect of parishioners. They did so by simply being that which God called them to be. They were merely human, set apart to handle holy things. In an age when we concentrate too much on what we fondly believe to be the “particularity” of our times, it is good for me to remember the “trivial round and common task” embraced by those called to priesthood through the ages. The Ordinal identifies these common tasks.

The Church sets before us our job description. We are to pray, study, teach, minister to the sick and dying and those who mourn. We are to baptize, prepare candidates for Confirmation, preside at Weddings, commend the dead in Burial; we are to teach and preach. We are to counsel and absolve the penitent. Above all we are to open the windows of Heaven, as in identifying the Eternal Presence of Christ in Bread and Wine, we enable the community to offer to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, in the company of the hosts of Heaven, the honor due to His Name.

In every age, the business of enabling the people of God to experience the reality of Otherness involves the priest keeping the experience of the Holy intact. That has never been an easy task, for we are as much worldlings as those to whom we minister. The more our attention strays from the work of Holiness – and the word holy in Hebrew has at its root the concept of being set apart – the more we fail in our priesthood and we fail our people.

“Apartness” easily slides into self-esteem and self-righteousness. It creates the obsession we have with our being something special, in ownership of the church building, in priestcraft, churchism, denominationalism,  a selfish delight in the institution, its preservation merely for itself. The struggles within Anglicanism today, as always, are centered in making the church our own and resisting that which we believe threatens that in which we delight. The need to “control”, to manage, typified in the struggles experienced in Synods and Conventions and the agendas of vestry meetings, or the subjects we blither about on the phone and internet illustrate vividly a reluctance to let go. We want to manage the Holy and thus we transform the Holy into an idol.

I am convinced that our present concentration on what we term “The Real Presence” and what Jesus, aka the Church can do for us is a perversion of the Sacrament, and its effect secularizes all we do. The offering of “ourselves, our souls and bodies” in Christ in the eternal worship of the Triune God, and in that offering our absorption into the purpose of God in love for the world is the common task of the church at every level.  As we are drawn into the “apartness” or difference of the Holy, we surrender our obsession with those churchy things which turn us on. No this isn’t powerless pietism. It is only in the power of the Holy that we are enabled to care for the poor and those “other” than ourselves. God’s justice, unlike our own, is synonymous with a mercy our falleness cannot begin to contemplate. Our humanity makes us bigots towards the bigotted, unmerciful towards the merciless and controlling of those who lack control.

There is nothing new about all this. In this constant context the priest is called to summon the people of God into that experience of the Holy which enables our surrendering ownership of the church to the God who called it into existence. God empowers the church to be the church as the church dares to step beyond its context into the eternal Presence by participation in that worship into which we are drawn as we lift up our hearts and lift them up unto the Lord.

One Response

  1. I caually picked up an anthology of poetry a couple of dasys ago. It fell open at extracts from Goldsmith’s A deserted village, which said much the same thing. Some of it seemed familiar, so I think I’ve seen bits quoted in various places, but hadn’t read the whole thing before.

    A man he was, to all the country dear,
    And passing rich with forty pounds a year;
    Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
    Nor ere had changed, nor wished to change his place;
    Unskilful he to fawn, or seek for power,
    By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour;
    Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,
    More bent to raise the wretched than to rise.
    His house was known to all the vagrant train,
    he chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain.

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