Sunday, February 2, 2014

In Praise of Church Leaders

While we are spending this year and the next in Kitchener-Waterloo while I go to grad school, Kay and I have been spending most Sundays at St. Columba’s, a small Anglican parish near the university district.  It’s a genial but smallish place, with a dedicated priest on a half-time salary and a lively but aging congregation - a fairly typical demographic in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Today St. Columba’s welcomed and prayed over its new lay leadership, of which my lovely and godly bride Kay was one.   Even though a newcomer, Kay agreed to step in and serve as Deputy Churchwarden, since most of those capable of serving in this position have done it before and wanted a respite.   If you come from other parts of the protestant family, you probably know the office of churchwarden by other names, such as elders.   A warden is the primary conduit between the priest and the congregation.  If there’s a complaint about the music or about the management, the wardens handle it.  If the priest’s performance is sub-par, the wardens have to delicately or firmly make that known, depending on the situation.  Wardens are accountable for the building, the finances, the training of all staff and volunteers in safe church practices (how to behave around the vulnerable), hiring and firing of staff .. the list goes on.   When I was a parish priest, I depended on my wardens to do all of the above, and more, for me.  Finding good church wardens, especially in small churches where the able and energetic are in short supply, can be a challenge.



So, it is with great respect and admiration that I watched Kay step into this role.  That’s her on the left, in the grey, being installed (inducted?  dragooned?) by Robert Bennet, the Bishop of Huron, the chap in the red with the funny hat.  I have a soft spot for Bob, or +Bob as we call him, because he ordained me to the priesthood almost a decade ago.  And he’s a runner.  Runners are cool.
Which brings me to the other point of my post, about bishops.  Who would be a bishop?
When I was in seminary, a priest I was training with told me that most clergy are introverts, and that’s acceptable most days of the week.  Except Sunday.   On Sunday, my mentor told me, you have to fill the room, because that’s your job.  Your job is to provide leadership, to show your people by your devotion and commitment that the liturgy and the holy sacraments are things worth organizing our lives around.  You have to be welcoming, and reverent, sometimes funny, and always present.  If you can’t be those things, at least for a few hours on Sunday, best look for another job.
An Anglican bishop has to fill a different room each Sunday.   During the week, he or she plays a role much like the CEO of a decent sized non-profit.   Bishops worry about finances and payroll, about pension shortfalls and personnel management, they stroke the egos of prima donna clergy or discipline, even fire people they once counted as friends and colleagues.  Bishops think about fundraising and recruiting,they worry about lawsuits, they coach nervous parish councils through hiring clergy, managing vacancies, and walk with them when the time comes to expand or wind down a parish.  Bishops, at least Anglican ones, have to show energy and enthusiasm and provide vision for an institution that most experts, sociologists and journalists will say is in decline.  Bishops are responsible for the teaching and doctrine of the church, and are expected to be themselves grounded in scripture and the daily offices, so they are expected to be pastor and theologian as well as CEO.
On top of all that, most Sundays, a Bishop is expected to climb into the car at oh-dark-and-stupid and drive off to visit one of his or her parishes, to lead worship, perform special duties such as confirmations, baptisms, ordinations, or swearing in new lay leaders.   After filling the room, the Bishop goes into coffee hour and fills another room, working the crowd like a politician, showing parishioners, some of whom can be grumpy or crochety or plain suspicious, that the money they and their parish sends off to the Diocese is going to a good cause. Today +Bob did all that and still had a moment to show an interest in my graduate studies.  He had to do all this after driving for 90 minutes through one of the worst winters in recent memory, traveling highways still covered from last night’s snowfall.
Who would be a bishop?  If you know a cleric who radiates ambition or eagerness for episcopal office, you would do well to be suspicious of that person's motives.   It’s not an accident that the church's best bishops, going back to St. Ambrose, have been reluctant ones.
So this post is in praise of church leaders, of people like Kay and Bishop Bob, of our priest Julia (the lady in white above) and all of the others who stood beside Kay this morning to say that they would do their bit.   The church is the Body of Christ on earth, but without its leaders and the help of the Holy Spirit which guides them and allows them to function, it would be a lifeless body.

5 comments:

Gene Packwood said...

Amen.

tradgardmastare said...

A good and thoughtful post.
BTW what are you studying at Grad School?

Michael Peterson said...

Thank you Tradgardmaster. I am working on an MA in Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. I was lucky enough to get selected by my employer, the Canadian Armed Forces chaplaincy, to do this. My thesis will be on the theory and practice of religious pluralism and on the choices facing the chaplaincy as it transitions from being a Christian to being a multi faith organization. At least, that's the plan. Once it's done in 2015, I go back to the military, hopefully in some staff or teaching role where I can put my education to work.

tradgardmastare said...

I'll be interested to hear how it goes...
I heard that the US army has pagan chaplains these days.Will the Canadian army be as comprehensive as this?

tradgardmastare said...

I'll be interested to hear how it goes...
I heard that the US army has pagan chaplains these days.Will the Canadian army be as comprehensive as this?

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.

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