Of late the church has been doing what it can to bring the ministry of all baptized to the forefront. We are, after all, members of a priesthood of all believers, something we reaffirm in each recitation of the baptismal covenant. It is important and nothing good can come of evangelism or discipleship without it. But in so doing the term Holy Orders seems to have been discarded with a goodbye note of disregard and near disrespect. I want to take issue with that. There is something extraordinary about being called by God out of the community and into a particular role received through a life profession, the laying on of hands and Spiritual anointing, which, by our tradition, places us into a line of direct physical contact with all the generations that preceded us and all the generations that will follow.
None of that means a retreat to the so-called Father Knows Best practices of former decades. What it means is that there is something of the holy that marks the ordained priesthood in a way that is not present in other offices of ministry, and that it is to be respected and honored as one sign of God’s presence among us. It also means that, whether you like it or not, ordained priests are called to be leaders in the church, and are accountable for successes and failures. Within the institution of the church, as is the case with all true leadership, it requires an ability to create conditions in which others have the greatest possible opportunity for success in their own ministries. It’s not a top-down sort of thing. It’s all about providing the knowledge, skills training, information, resources and support that others need to do well in whatever they are doing.
Suppose, for instance, that Joseph’s carpentry business grew large enough to employ a handful of others but there were no gifted craftsmen available. Could he, as leader, get quality production out of new employees who were given no training, not provided with quality tools, told to go out and get their own wood, given no information about what was happening, nor told much about whether their work was any good but always told about how bad it was? Could he make things better by “motivating” his people with slogans and nifty videos? How about some punishment? Would his situation improve if he announced that leadership obviously did not work so from now on everyone would be a leader and he would just be another carpenter, albeit one who specialized in altars, cups and plates?
Think about it.