Paul writes – On of the privileges I’ve had recently has been part of a process for journeying with and helping potential candidates for Anglican priesthood to discern the ways in which God might be inviting them to serve in that capacity within the laos or “people of God”. William Stringfellow was not an Episcopal priest, but like me, he was a so-called “lay person”, one committed to deep (some might say “radical”) theological reflection and to being in the world for the sake of God and God’s purposes and activity in God’s world. He was deeply committed to the implications of the incarnation for a church that was called to be paradoxically both in the world and yet also apart from the world by virtue of it’s priestly calling to be God’s people for the sake of the world.
“…The Biblical description of the Church as the Body of Christ living in the midst of the traffic and turmoil and conflict of the world on behalf of the world. The Biblical image of the Church is, to be sure, that of a stranger and alien in the world, despised by the nation, but the Biblical image of the Church is never one of an innocuous, isolationist religious society cut off from the actual affairs of [people] and nations in the World…” (Stringfellow p.19 – see title below)
With thoughts of priesthood in my mind, and in ongoing reflections on my recent experience, alluded to above, I was struck by the following quote attributed to William Stringfellow and derived from the third book by William Stringfellow which I added to my library a good number of years back – A Private and a Public Faith.
“…For those ordained by the church for the priesthood, this means that their office and ministry are located at the interstices of the Body of Christ and of the congregations that represent that Body visibly and notoriously in the world. The ministry of the priesthood is a ministry to the members of the Body in their relations to each other, relation’s consequent to their incredibly diversified ministry within the world. The ministry of the priesthood is one directed to the most sophisticated life of the church, the church, that is, gathered as a congregation in worship, assembled for the exposition and exhibition of the Word of God. This is the ministry addressed to the care and nurture of the members of the Body of Christ for the sake of their several, various, and common uses in the world. This is the ministry serving those people who come out of the world now and then to worship God together and encompass and include in their intercession to God the cares of the world as they know it and are involved in it. This is the ministry of confession in which the task and witness of each member of the Body is heard and related to that of all other members of the Body who are now or who have ever been or, indeed, who are yet to be. This is the ministry that cares for and conserves the tradition of the church—that is, the continuity and integrity of the Christian mission ever since Pentecost. This is the ministry devoted to the health and holiness of the Body of Christ in the world…” (Text boldened by me to highlight that this quote is as equally about mission as it is about priesthood).
Stringfellow’s comments are not all there is to say about the calling and role of priests, but it’s an important part, sadly too often neglected. Thanks to Len Hjalmarson for reminding me of this book (and why it’s important whether for those considering ordination, for those already ordained, and for the whole people of God), and the article (excerpted from the book) from which the quote on priesthood (above) is taken. Len outlines the kind of thinking and the directions that thinking might go in as a follow up to a comment he left one of my recent posts.