December 18th, 2007


Priests in a People's Church - A Short Review

I recently picked up a copy of the book Priests in a People's Church from the library. Well, I technically picked it up from the Univeristy of Dayton, who loaned it to OSU, who I borrowed it from.

Anyway, I really, really like this book, despite the fact that it's written for priests in the Anglican communion. A number of the concepts expressed are certainly relevant to all clergy, regardless of path or tradition.

Here are some key concepts from the book (with some personalization):
  • The Priest as Focus: the priest is the person the congregation most depends on. S/He also depends on them, but the congregation has the ability trust that the priest will always be there, while the priest cannot always rely on the congregation to be there. S/He has to do some things even when no one else wants to do them.
  • Clergy as Center of the Vortex: at the center of many converging lines, the priest doesn't have the luxury of exiting the religious sphere. This has a double-meaning in ADF and Paganism, where clergy truly do stand at the Center.
  • Clergy as Outsiders: No matter how integral the priest is, s/he is not part of the "normal" world. Priests are seen as "apart" from the normal community, despite the reliance the community has on them. There are feelings that the priest's place is not in the social setting, but rather in the Grove. Many priests find themselves very lonely very often. On top of this, the vision of a priest is different; their worldview changes with ordination/consecration. Seeing things differently is not only a spiritual thing, but a job requirement, too, as it takes real work to see multiple sides of an issue.
  • Clergy as Exemplars of Virtue: Priests are held to a different standard. It's not conscious, and no priest will actively complain about it, but even in traditions without absolute morals (like our own), priests are expected to live up to a higher standard. In this sense, clergy ceases to be about personal development along a religious path, and is replaced with expectation of achievement of (near) perfection along that path.
  • Priests are Easy Victims: It's easy to blame clergy for things, mostly because they take it so well and they often feel they have no recourse when a person becomes angry with them. They can't get angry, nor can they respond in kind, they feel, because they are aware of being always in the spotlight.
  • Priesthood as Externally Defined: what a priest "does" has less to do with what s/he actually does than what people say/perceive s/he does. What does a priest do? Congregants often think they know exactly what the clergy is doing. Generally, they're wrong. But that simple fact doesn't change their impressions or expectations.

Of course, none of the above is me complaining about the state of things, and I'm not much of one to have been turned into a victim or held to a high standard all that often, but I have experience with each of these things, and I can see how these things can easily get out of control very, very quickly if the priest is not equipped to deal with them.

There are many other wonderful things in this book that can help priests (or perspective priests) of any tradition, including dealing with violence, narcissism, and even the media.

Really, if you get the chance to grab this one, about 80% of the book is directly pertinent to any sort of clergy, with the remaining 20% being applicable just to Anglican clergy (but still very well written).

And now, I'm off to return the book: it's 50¢ per day that it's late, and it was due yesterday!