In the Christian Church, the role of professional clergy (pastor, priest, etc.) is antiquated, cumbersome, and ineffective in the world in which we live. The concept of professional clergy setting certain people “apart”to do ministry, or as the ones who know more about connecting with God, or that which is sacred in the world is misguided.
And over hundreds of years (it hasn’t always been this way in the Christian church since Jesus lived), we have looked to the clergy as the one who “ministers,” the one who can pray for us, or visit us when we are sick emotionally or physically, and the only one who can baptize, offer the bread and wine in communion, marry us, bury us, and lead our worship services. We have been terribly wrong.
The clergy person has almost always been male and heterosexual. A group of men got in a room and decided that might be best. We have said that others are not eligible. What a shame, what a loss, and what a mistake of interpretation of Scripture on our part.
And depending on the religious tradition, the clergy person has had someone with authority lay hands on the person’s head and say that he can now do certain things from this point forward that other people in the church cannot do. We have missed the mark.
Sadly, this has caused us to lose our way in the world, to have so many needs go unmet because we were looking to the clergy as the ones to “do the ministry.” And so we are disappointed when the clergy person doesn’t come see our family member in the hospital, or our loved one in the nursing home. Our expectation has been flawed from the beginning.
This may seem odd for me to say since I am a third generation clergy. I have been a minister on church staffs in three different “denominations” of Christian churches and I am now a member of a fourth. And when I include being a chaplain in a healthcare system with my church experience it spans over thirty years as an ordained clergy.
But I am here to tell you, we are all the same, “lay persons” and “clergy.” We are called to care for the widow, the orphans, the sick, and the poor. We are called to care for our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Anyone who is in need–emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
Every one of us is called to be God’s Presence to others. Every one of us.
Wayne Oates, my mentor in seminary, used to tell a story about when he was training in a hospital in a large, open ward where dozens of patients were crammed in next to one another. One of the patients started screaming at the top of his lungs, “Where’s God? Where’s God? I need God! Can someone tell me where’s God?” Wayne, a young humble student at the time walked over to him and stood by his bed and said, “Sir, I am sorry but I am the closest thing to God you’re gonna find around here today. How can I help you?”
People often wonder “Where’s God?” in the midst of the storms of life. And the truth is, we are the closest thing to God that many people will ever experience in life.
We will never meet the needs of all the hurting people with professional clergy. All hands are needed on deck.
Open your hands, they will be needed today. You are the closest thing to God others will find.