What is a Priest?

On Saturday, October 6th I swore to “conform my life… to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of Christ” as the Anglican church has received them” and to pay “canonical obedience” to my bishop in life-long service as a priest in Christ’s one, holy, catholic church. What is this all about? What does it mean to be priest? Let me share with you some of the thoughts I’ve recently shared with my congregation as to what a priest and a priest’s role is and isn’t.

Many folks, especially those from a Hispanic background, envision a priest or pastors’ role as that of telling other people what to do. “Now that you’re a priest, you’re really in charge” runs this line of thinking. A priest’s first calling, however, is to not be in charge, but to serve. Jesus said in Mark 10: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”

Another common misconception is that a priest is one who has been given special powers or abilities, especially as related to the sacraments. Rather, see the words of the charge given me by Bishop Lyons as he gave me a Bible: “Take authority to preach the Word of God and to administer the Holy Sacraments. Do not forget the trust committed to you as a Priest in the Church of God.” A priest is one who has been given the responsibility or trust by the bishop for a two-fold task: to administer the sacraments and preach the word…not to perform magic.

In debriefing the ordination service with some of my parishioners many of them said the most moving moment was when I was given the stole of a priest. “When your father placed the stole on you I felt as if he was placing the stole on me personally,” said one of my young emerging leaders. He, intuitively, understood that my ordination was in a very real sense “for him.” He in a derivative sense as a baptized member of my congregation was the one being empowered for ministry. Paul speaks to the misunderstanding that priests are the ones who are supposed to do the “real” work while the rest of the “commoners” get to sit in the peanut gallery and comment on their performance. In Ephesians 4:10 he says of church leaders: “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Rather than doing all the work themselves, a priest’s role is to train up the baptized to do the work of ministry for the good of the church.

Please join myself and Mike in praying these words from the ordination service litany:

For all members of your Church in their vocation and ministry, that they may serve you in a true and godly life, we pray to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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1 Response to What is a Priest?

  1. Christine says:

    Great summary! Thanks for sharing these thoughts…they reminded me of how to pray for you.

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