There are those in the Episcopal Church who have strong predisposition towards the clergy being only functionaries. It is an extream anti-clericalism that denies, in my humble opinion, what Holy Orders are meant to be within the universal, apostolic, and catholic Church.
The Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Stamford, CT, recently commented on this in his weblog.
Here is an excerpt:

“The beauty of the ordination rites is about the only thing we have to save Holy Orders from becoming a mundane job. It might seem to some that the cleric as employee would be a relief from a church in which too much is made of clergy and too little of the ministry of the people. Making ordinations and services of installation more mundane, more matter-of-fact will have the consequence of also making the ministry of laity more mundane and less awesome. The trend of the last 25 years of secularizing our understanding of the clergy role has done little to make the people of God more holy or more empowered in their baptismal ministry and it has done much to reinforce the very clericalism( the priest does the ministry, the people receive and evaluate it) that is so deplored.”

Read it all on his weblog, or click below.
This piece puts into words my very thoughts on this whole subject. Click below to read the entire article, which first appeared in the National Episcopal Clergy Association newletter, by Father Harding.

This was originally published in the NECA (National Episcopal Clergy Association newsletter.) I understand the editor got hate mail about it from at least one bishop famous for an emphasis on lay ministry. It also touches on the discussion below
There is a criticism which is often heard in our church these days that ordinations are too elaborate. The ceremonies and festivities that surround an ordination or the celebration of a new ministry are thought to imply an inappropriate significance for Holy Orders. If I may put words in the mouths of the critics, the complaint is that,”After all, baptism is the central and most important fact of Christian life. It is through baptism that one becomes a Christian and through baptism that the church reconstitutes its life. The ministry of the baptized is the fundamental ministry, and the ministry of the ordained is to be servants of the servants of God. By elaborate ordinations and celebrations of new ministry we give the impression that Ordination is more important than baptism, that the clergy are the real Christians. Our ordination and institution ceremonies reinforce an outmoded clericalism, have distasteful overtones of authoritarianism, and undermine the ministry of the laity. Look at the Celebration of New Ministry in the Prayer Book. The people give the new priest a Bible, stoles, Prayer Books. In the end nothing is left. Everything has been given away.”
This is the complaint, as I have often heard it, from some laity, clergy, bishops, seminary professors and deans. Drastic remedies are proposed: simplifying the rite, insisting on austerity, prohibitions against parties and special music. Some suggest having the laity join in the laying on on of hands. Others suggest that the clergy should give gifts to the laity symbolic of the ministry of the baptized.
I believe that the ordination rites of the Book Of Common Prayer are sound, that the form for the Celebration Of New Ministry is wholesome, and that the ceremonies, enthusiasms and piety which typically attend these events in the life of our church are a sign of hope. It is my conviction that our problem is not that we make too much of ordinations, but rather that both cleric and people too soon and too easily forget that for which they prayed.
There is one aspect of this criticism which I would like to affirm. In many parishes, one never sees a baptismal rite which begins to compare in grandeur with an ordination or the welcoming ceremony for a new rector. The problem is not that ordinations are too elaborate. The problem is that baptisms are often not celebrated with suitable dignity and grace. The Great Vigil of Easter is the normative baptismal feast. Three other major feasts of the Christian year are provided as alternatives. It is the perfunctory baptism of a child of a family with only a tangential relationship to the parish and a less than obvious commitment to the life of faith that diminishes the significance of baptism!
There is a problem here of liturgical practice. The problem is a neglect of the great feasts of the Christian year and a lack of understanding on the part of many church people of the meaning of the feasts. For this the clergy must bear a very great part (but not all) the responsibility. The problem is not too much celebration at ordinations but not enough celebration at baptisms. In many places there are too few baptisms that the entire parish community can celebrate with enthusiasm and integrity. It is hard to get excited about a private family affair imposed on the congregation, especially when one may never see the family again.
When a man or woman after long preparation, thorough testing and the approval of the entire church represented in all its orders, gives himself or herself to Christ in Holy Orders for the sake of the Church and the ChurchÂ’s mission to bring GodÂ’s salvation to the world, those present in direct proportion to the degree that they take their own baptism seriously will give thanks, glorify God and rejoice. They will feel their own faith and calling confirmed and go with a full heart to the party afterward. There are no neo-puritanical liturgical reforms which can stop this natural movement of the human heart, in which, I dare say, God is well pleased.
If the clergy are simply functionaries, hirelings of the congregation(as so much of our policy implies with its contracts, work units, and extra-canonical job descriptions), then the ordination rites are too elaborate. But if there is a ministry of the Gospel and the Gospel sacraments, a ministry of stewarding Apostolic truth and practice, a ministry of “spiritual jurisdiction,” a ministry of guarding the Faith from soul-destroying error, a ministry of calling the Church to reconstitute itself in repentance, in a more total baptismal identity, as a more authentic eucharistic community, a ministry entrusted to the Apostles and in succeeding generations to those who in their turn have been called, then all the people of God are bound to treat with great joy and celebration the moment when a person enters upon that sacred ministry.
They are bound to rejoice because in this ordination, Christ touches His Church and gives to the whole people of God that for which they hunger: “Bishops and other ministers who both by their life and doctrine set forth Thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer Thy Holy Sacraments.” Because of this ministry, the baptized have more than an individual conscience, more than the popular movements of the moment. They have clergy who are sworn and dedicated to faithfully transmit the teaching of the Apostles, and who are promised God’s grace to carry out this ministry, in spite of the fact that this treasure is conveyed in earthen vessels.
This is a very beautiful thing. It is not more beautiful than baptism. But without the election and consecration of successors to the Apostles, baptism into a truly catholic, universal church is not possible. The Faith into which one is baptized will become merely what is here new, instead of what has always and ever been. The baptism of babies and the consecration of bishops are both beautiful and poignant because they are the means by which the saving action of Christ is extended to the next generation. The Church will naturally surround both events with beauty and ceremony. There need be no feeling that to honor the one is to diminish the other. However, the consecration of a bishop is the means by which the Church reconstitutes itself as a baptizing community, able to baptize people in the Faith of the Apostles, able to baptize into the church catholic, the church universal. The consecration of a bishop touches all the parishes, all the dioceses, other churches. It appropriately means more to more people and will naturally be celebrated with a devotion which is incommensurate with a local baptism. This does not diminish the dignity of baptism but it shows what a great thing it is into which one is being baptized.
The beauty of the ordination rites is about the only thing we have to save Holy Orders from becoming a mundane job. It might seem to some that the cleric as employee would be a relief from a church in which too much is made of clergy and too little of the ministry of the people. Making ordinations and services of installation more mundane, more matter-of-fact will have the consequence of also making the ministry of laity more mundane and less awesome. The trend of the last 25 years of secularizing our understanding of the clergy role has done little to make the people of God more holy or more empowered in their baptismal ministry and it has done much to reinforce the very clericalism( the priest does the ministry, the people receive and evaluate it) that is so deplored.
It is an essential role of those in Holy Orders to continually call the baptized to a greater recognition of the dignity of each personÂ’s calling and to support and uphold the baptized in that calling. Surely, the ministry whose service is, in season and out, to call the Church to repentance and holiness, to proclaim GodÂ’s mercy, grace and will to abundantly give that holiness, must have an appropriate dignity or be very hampered in fulfilling its calling.
There is also at work in these criticisms, a very Puritan understanding of power. The Anabaptists did the wrong thing for the right reason: in response to magical, superstitious understandings of the sacraments, the Puritans robbed the sacraments of all mystical, supernatural power and made them merely symbolic and memorial. For Puritans, ordination is removed from the sacramental world altogether and becomes the conveying of institutional authority. The minister has an authority of office conveyed by the congregation. This was not the wish of all the non-Lutheran Reformers, but in practice their nuanced theories of ordination give way before the obvious political metaphors. If Christ is not really present to the Church in a unique way in the eucharist, it is not conceivable that there is an unique presence of Christ for the Church through Holy Orders.
More and more political metaphors of power have come to dominate the discussion of ecclesiology. It is true enough that the Church is a human and political institution. As such the Church is liable to the uses and abuses of power of all such institutions. The founders of the Episcopal Church were well aware of this and filled our constitution with checks and balances. There is nothing wrong with a political analysis of the Church. However, if that is where we stop, we are left with an understanding of the power relationships between clergy and laity based on a zero sum game. Political power is seen as a power pie. If you have power, it is because you have taken a larger slice of pie, which means my slice is smaller. That kind of power is real. It can be dangerous and addictive, to the laity as well as the clergy. In many parish churches it is as likely to be wielded by a lay pope as by an authoritarian rector. I believe that our constitution and canons are up to the challenge of these power dynamics, if priest and parish will each accept the appropriate constitutional canonical roles. ( The current penchant for tinkering with the constitution of the Episcopal Church by a generation that is naive about and unlettered in such things compared to the 18th century is tragedy in the making.)
There is another kind of power which is miraculous, mysterious and abundantly fecund. For this kind of power, the more I have the more you have, and the more you have, the more I have. This is the mystical power of Christ to which the Church has many avenues of access, including the avenue of Holy Orders. If the people have not power in their ministry, if they are not progressing in holiness and service, it is likely that the ministry of their priest lacks mystical power. One cause may be that the priest is not dwelling in his or her holy order and claiming the promised grace of God. Indeed, something is always lacking in our surrender to our vocation, be it clerical or lay. It can be the priestÂ’s relation to the reality of his or her vocation that causes a lack of power. It can also be that the people will not empower the priest, that they will insist that he or she have no power but whatever is given over to accomplish the projects of the moment. It may be that the people diminish the office of priest and the promise made by Christ to grace His Church through that office. If we thus turn our pastors into hirelings, the wolf will come, because the wolf knows that the hireling will flee. A merely functional, organizational, political understanding of Holy Orders devoid of sacramental power leaves us with only the personality of the cleric and his or her natural abilities. This is a formula for bitter disappointment for people and clergy alike. When the dimension of the mystical presence of Christ to the Church through Holy Orders is lost, the dignity and holiness of the ministry of the baptized will be lost as well! When the sacramental, mystical understanding of Holy Orders becomes diminished, the real power of the laity to follow Christ is impoverished.
If ordinations and installations are seen primarily as events through which Christ gifts the whole church with a unique mode of His presence by providing continuing Apsotolic teaching,preaching, and sacramental leadership, there will be no need to feel that anything is being taken from the people. The tokens they give are meant to convey their prayers that the poor man or women through whom Christ intends to gift His church will cooperate with this mysterious working of the Holy Spirit for the building up of the whole church. Let us have noble, joyous and solemn baptisms, whenever possible on Easter Eve, wherever possible done by the Bishop. Let us have noble, joyous, solemn consecrations, ordinations, and institutions. At ordinations and institutions let the Bishop present tokens of ministry appropriate for the Bishop to present and let the people present tokens appropriate for the people to present. Let us refrain from taking liberty with the forms and adding gifts and tokens that do not celebrate the gift Christ is giving His Church in clergy who “both by their life and doctrine set forth Thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer Thy Holy Sacraments.”
ゥ Leander Harding 1996


  1. >It is an extream anti-clericalism that denies, >in my humble opinion, what Holy Orders are >meant to be within the universal, apostolic, >and catholic Church.
    But Episcopalians aren’t part of such a body anyway, so why does it matter?

  2. Well, actually we are. Most people think of the Episcopal Church as just another Protestant denomination, when in reality we are a hybrid between the Reformed and Catholic ideals. Anglicanism has a very similar (if not the same) view of Holy Orders (ordained positions of deacon, priest, and bishop) that is held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran bodies are all within the “catholic” side of God’s universal Church according to our understandings of Holy Orders, sacraments (at least Eucharist and Baptism), apostolic succession, and accept at least the first four ecumenical councils, etc.

  3. Incorrect.
    I’m well aware of the claims of Anglican apostolic succession, but they ignore the whole idea. The idea isn’t JUSt that one bishop lays hands on another. The idea is that the faith and practice of the apostles can be traced through the consistent teachings of the church. Also, it is marked by a disciplinary potential which is simply lacking from the Anglican Communion. Physical succession its claims may or may not be valid, but that’s more difficult to trace. The old theory was that Anglicanism was part of a 3 part “Branch Theory”, but both in terms of authenticity and officiality this was always a spurious claim and has since fallen out of favor as having any real teeth.
    Also, the Anglican Church is a 2 sacrament church, Orthodox and CAtholics are 7 sacrament churches. This is a major difference both in the faith and praxis of these groups. Particularly confession, although technically ‘available’ in Anglican tradition, is both extremely rare in practice and also not a formally recognized sacrament of the church.
    Reformed is by its nature non-Catholic. The 39 articles (although they are, were, and always will be basically a joke) do not represent a traditional understanding of Christianity.
    >Anglicanism has
    > a very similar (if not the same) view of Holy Orders (ordained positions
    > of deacon, priest, and bishop) that is held by the Roman Catholic and
    > Orthodox churches.
    Negative. Being ordained to the priesthood in Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology involves a bond with Christ, “marrying Christ” in a sense, which is precisely why there have always been disciplinary rubrics governing the inability of a priest to marry post-ordination. Even in the Orthodox tradition the wife of a priest (presbyter) is called a priestess (presbytera) precisely because they are one body (sacrament of marriage) who have married one body (Christ).
    As for accepting the 4 Ecumenical Councils, well Anglicans have and they haven’t. For instance, you’re allowed to be an Episcopalian Bishop even if you openly disagree with the Nicene Creed. Not exactly the Church of the 4 councils there. Plus, all 7 of the Ecumenical Councils are necessary to be considered The Church, although I doubt Anglicans have any significant problem with that.
    Lastly, this term Catholic, or as you so aptly put it, “catholic”. There’s a difference between Catholic and “catholic”, namely that the Church has a universal faith. Roman Catholics have a formal Catechism so that the ascribed to faith is at all times and places consistent, despite the practice of certain individual priests and parishioners. Orthodoxy has a global Communion who is identical in faith and who maintains such ties by the ability to excommunicate wayward members. Anglicanism has no such unity either in practice or principle. Bishop Pike or Spong has nothing on common with Bishop Kolini or Bishop Akinola. Prayer books differ, liturgies differ, sexual ethics differ, and often 2 Episcopal Churches in the same city offer very different versions of the faith – that’s not real Catholic.
    Again, Anglicanism hides behind a facade of “apostolic succession” but it does not understand that the whole point of that 1st ecumenical council is precisely uniformity of faith. It has pracitces that blatantly contradict anything resembling Ortho-Catholic faith and its practices aren’t consistent. As we speak there are African evangelistic Anglican churches who are missionizing the American Church. While officially out of Communion with Canterbury (who has no authority anyway) they have given their reason as this – the ECUSA has denied the faith once and for all given to the saints. But who says that they can say that? Then again, who says they can’t?
    There’s Catholic and Apostolic for ya.

  4. Ray,
    I am aware of what you have written. Anglicanism is different from Roman Catholicism, is different from Orthodoxy, and is different from Protestantism. Along with the ecclesial structures are our theological understandings that can be summed up in our Catechism and how we pray, “lex orandi lex credendi,” yet from my perspective Anglicanism is an “ethos” or way of thinking, worshiping, praying, and dealing with differences and with one another. You are welcome to your opinion, but most Anglicans disagree with you.
    I’m not sure if this is your intent, but you come across as mighty angry about something.
    By the way, the See of Canterbury has authority, but I suspect just not the kind of authority you want.

  5. It’s a church full of double talk, opaqueness, and indecision. It still has good clergy and laity in some places, but its lack of discipline at high levels has led to a complete form-over-function ethos as a method of pseudo-universality (after all, if we all share a similar-but-not-same liturgical service then we can agree to disagree over heaven, hell, the bodily resurrection, the Trinity, sexuality, marriage, the sacraments, etc).
    Lex Orandi Lex Credendi is a statement by Prosper of Aquitain. Actually the ECUSA is a perfect example of what he meant. The prayer book eliminated much of the stern catechism which had previously been adhered to and removed many of the penitential prayers. Shockingly enough the congregation got, well, less catechetical and less penitent!
    Also it’s a church that will tell you one thing in a catechism but have a very different working theology from place to place.
    I won’t even get started on “inclusivity”, which is de facto the most exclusive ideology that I’ve ever experienced in practice. To name all of the good Christ-loving people who I know that were chased out of the ordination process under the guise of “inclusivity” would take more patience than I possess. Although some diocese still look for genuine call, others basically count you two strikes down from the outset unless you’re a twice married woman, a homosexual, a racial minority, or some other “wounded healer”. Then, with no clear message whatsoever, bishops have the gall to write their people asking them to be a “Great Commission Diocese”.
    Bishops manuver constantly to get their way. Look at the way postulants who desire to attent an orthodox seminary such as Nashota House or Trinity are shut down on the launch pad. In my diocese if you mention one of those two the bishop gives you one chance to say that you’re kidding, and then there are penalties. I should know.
    Oh, I bet you thought angry letters were written by a non-Episcopalians? Negative. Well, it’s true and false, but I’m a long and irrelevant story.
    What the ECUSA needs right now is some anger. Some people need to mail the keys to the bishops and tell them that they can take the buildings, but the faith has to stay. Instead people just deal with it like good little Anglicans. They slowly trickle out as they have for 30 years. Being good Episcopalians they know that the greatest sin is “anger” or causing a scene. Meanwhile the church will debate, obfuscate, and try to walk irreconcilable lines.
    “This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.”
    -TS Elliot, “the Hollow Men”

  6. Well, Ray, I understand more of why you are so angry. Of course there are examples of everything you have said above. I can also find examples of such things, from the testimonies of Roman and Orthodox friends, of everything you mentioned above. The difference is, and more specifically at least in the Church of Rome, that discipline is imposed, belief is imposed, everything is technically imposed from above. Coming from a Pentecostal/Evangelical background, I was far on the congregationalist side of church structure. Rome is on the far other side. I would much rather have the best of both which I think can exists within Anglicanism, even with all the problems that are experienced as a result.
    The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I have not experienced most of what you mentioned above, even though the “working theology” of the Episcopal Church is more liberal than I am comfortable with. The “official theology,” as presented in the Prayer Book, is more in line with my beliefs. But then again, I want to be challenged and not simply gather around me what my itching ears what to hear! (That statement, so often used by conservatives to blast liberals, is applicable to both sides.) That is why I chose General.
    I’m sorry for your bad experiences within the Episcopal Church. I have a very different experience. It is, like all churches and all human institutions, full of flawed and finite human beings. Praise be to God for His mercy, grace, and long suffering.

  7. Fair enough. I just find it at present to be more often flawed and two-sided than the others. At the very least Roman CAtholics understand what they’re signing up for.
    I am also originally from an evangelical background. I understand the appeal of the Episcopal Church. I’m personally a really bad Episcopalian, but a pretty good Anglican. I think that at some point a degree of consistency must be imposed… within reason of course.

  8. I would also say that the problem with groups like Catholicism is not that they enforce beliefs – that’s necessary to have a “faith” which is definable. I think their problem is the detail and precision with which they articulate that belief.
    Look at Orthodoxy sometime though – it does not suffer from such minutia yet it retains a superb foundation of discipline and spiritual worship.

  9. I agree. I hope we don’t come to the point where certain doctrines are “imposed” on the entire Communion. That would be completely unAnglican – what do we impose Calvinism, Arminianism, substitutionary atonement, or any number of other doctrines, including whether women should be priests or whether homosexuals should be involved in the Church’s leadership? If we start imposing, then we might all as well become Roman.
    The Episcopal Church has not been very forthright concerning clergy self-discipline, however.

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