Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vision 2019

This is my contribution to the Anglican Church of Canada's Vision 2019 project.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Friday, September 11, 2009

Avoiding Work

This isn't actually about avoiding work. It's just a result of my avoiding work. I was thinking further on the clerical collar thing. Actually, I was walking. I now drive a diesel truck and unless I am driving any distance it is a pain to warm up so I have started walking if I am going anywhere in town. It means scheduling things a little differently but I have found it also gives me time for thinking that I didn't have before.

Anyway, I was thinking about the clerical collar thing. And the thought struck me that we speak about the Incarnation. God became one of us and dwelt among us in all ways. God did not set God's self apart from even the lowest of the low in any distinguishing way. I can't even begin to count the times people have said to me - When you told me you were a priest, I sort of went oh-oh but then I looked at you and figured you would be okay. And often this opens a door to all sorts of interesting discussions about faith and the church.

To balance it out - I have also heard stories where wearing the collar has helped people open up as well. I certainly don't expect people to not wear the collar just because of my experiences. And each of us must do what we feel comfortable within ourselves doing. I will admit that part of the reason I don't wear a collar is that I grew up with a priest who did not always wear one and it is what I knew. But I also think that there is something to be said for truly being among the people as one of them as opposed to being visibly set apart. I think it depends on the person as well. There are many who would not be suited to my style of ministry. It also depends on the context of the ministry and who we are trying to reach and what their needs are. I will admit to some interesting conversations when I have been wearing my collar as well.

I just think that we have to think seriously about making something a hard and fast rule. If we stick to one way of doing things, we are only going to meet the needs of a limited number of people. If we allow for diversity, we will reach many more.

I can appreciate the calls for moving back to older rituals. I understand that there is a growing population that appreciates that. But, lets not go to extremes. Let us not become rigid in how we do things - expecting people to conform to one way of doing things. Rather, lets allow for different possibilities, different ways of being able to learn about and to express our faith.

Another concern would be why we do these things. Do they become idols in themselves? Do we do them because they set us apart? Or do we do them because they bring life? If they bring life to all - that is one thing. But if something else is needed we need to open to that as well. The rituals are not what is important - they are God's gift to us to help bring life. But, if participating in those rituals is not life giving - if the rituals themselves become the focus rather than God, then we need to rethink these things. The rituals themselves are not the goal but are a way of reaching the goal. If they actually block that we need to rethink our use of them. It doesn't mean abandoning them because for some they are a powerful way of connecting with God. But it does mean being open to the different needs of others.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie


I read this link today. I'm still not sure if I should take it seriously as it hits just about every hot button. And I'm not even going bite on the usual hot button issues as I probably wouldn't be saying anything I or someone else has not said before.

But - in all this is the effort to make ourselves more relevant to the RC church and our African brothers and sisters. What about making ourselves more relevant and strengthening our ties with our own people? Not that I'm saying that we go to the opposite extreme and ignore the RC and our African brothers and sisters, either. But if we are going to return to doing things in a traditional manner to strengthen those ties are we truly serving those around us?

I live in a tension around the wearing of my clericals. I do not wear my collar except for liturgical functions. Nor do I even own a cassock. These things are relevant in the contexts that they are needed. I have had discussions on my not wearing my collar. I truly do understand the logic behind wearing it and I do believe it. But, experience has also shaped my decision not to wear mine. I have experienced a real change in response from those in the larger community when they see me wearing it. People who are usually very comfortable with me and open to talking about spiritual things become hostile when they see me wearing it. Not that I can't handle the hostility but my main purpose is the building of relationships. If it is meant to set us a part and make us noticeable, believe me, I have developed tools that do the same without putting people's backs up. They may not be completely orthodox tools (okay, they are not orthodox in the least) but you wouldn't believe the openings for ministry they have provided.

If someone believes it is important in their context to wear their clericals - go for it. If they believe that they should wear their clericals for whatever reason - go for it. But please, don't put barriers in place in my ministry.

And notice, I kept away from ranting on the usual issues ;)

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Struggles understanding rural parish ministry today

Last night at vestry I posed the question of what ministry, and especially parish ministry, is in today's context. There were three things that prompted the question.

The last was a request to facilitate a congregation through a major transition, which involves spending time outside my parish but in the same diocese.

Another was the sudden death of a priest in the diocese south of me. This leaves a friend of mine as the only stipendiary priest in an area larger than England consisting of five parishes. How might that impact me as the closest priest to some of those parishes, albeit in a different diocese? And, if it does affect me, what is the impact on my congregation and the larger PALS Community?

And running through all this is my ministry of presence in the larger community, which does not result in material gains for my parish. It does, however, meet a spiritual need as evidenced by the ever increasing calls on my presence and services by more members of that larger community.

Don't get me wrong - I love what I am being called to do. It actually energizes me. It certainly challenges me as I look for ways of meeting needs that traditional (and strongly male-oriented) expressions of spirituality no longer meet. And I will admit that there are a number of times that I skirt the edge or cross over traditionally accepted ways of placing things into the context of the people approaching me - especially when being with women for whom traditional (male-developed) practices have little to no resonance.

But I digress (which is typical). I am paid a full stipend by a community that can really only afford a half time stipend. For that full stipend I do about a half time traditional parish ministry. The other half is spent in my ministry of presence. This latter uses the same gifts, skills, and services as the former - I do blessings, listening, baptisms, funerals, spiritual direction in a community with few connections or defining boundaries.

So the question last night was somewhat of an effort to see how much acceptance my vestry had for the funding of calls on my time outside of the usual understanding of a parish priest's job.

Traditionally, in many congregations' minds, the priest is paid to minister to the people on the parish list. Oh, there is a sort of understanding of the parish as a geographical area and that the priest is to serve all in that area. But the reality is that the expectation is that the priest mostly serves those who contribute to the material fabric of the parish.

In general, I have been very blessed with a congregation that supports my ministry of presence. This is helped by the positive feedback and image in the larger community. But as I met with my wardens yesterday afternoon before the vestry meeting I sensed a lessening of tolerance for my extra little tasks.

The need out there is so great. The models of church from the 20th century are no longer capable of meeting that need. Most of the people I meet in the ministry of presence have a strong spirituality but feel the Church is no longer able to help them in that regard. Often things are explained in a context that no longer has a connection with personal experience and it leaves people struggling to understand their relationship and experience of the Divine. Traditional models of doing church no longer fit in with life-styles (and those life-styles are ones of necessity such as shift work that involves working on Sundays, two parents working different shifts, realities of rural life in a world where the family farm is no longer a viable option without an outside income etc.) Yet those people still need re-assurance and guidance every bit as much as those who are formally in a church community.

I am trying to help my people understand that being a church community is not just about the care of those who contribute to our particular community but also about making care available for all. This may involve work outside the parish boundaries, or even diocesan boundaries. It may involve a fair amount of time spent with people who in no way contribute to our particular church community. It is hard to get outside the expectation that the stipendiary priest is paid to show concrete results within the parish list and that there is a way of accounting for the time spent that shows material gain for the church - ie contributions toward the upkeep of the building and the stipend of the priest.

I don't even know where I am going with this post other than I am trying to form a question and then hopefully find some sort of answer that guides me in how I do the ministry to which I believe I am called while also honouring the hopes and expectations of the community that supports me. And maybe the larger question for me underlying all of this is - am I being fair to the people in that supporting community as I strive to do the larger ministry that I love so much and that actually feeds me spiritually.

I have often thought of resigning as parish priest. I could find a job that gave me some flex and allowed for a ministry of presence. I have always held back. This is mainly because I know that being the parish priest also helps people approach me. My being a parish priest thus becomes a tool in reaching out - a tool that would not be there is I were to find some other type of job and still do the ministry I feel called to do. Again, don't get me wrong - I also love being a parish priest and being with the community that looks after my physical support. It's just that I feel called to two slightly different styles of ministry and often feel guilty that the one is supporting the other without the other offering support back to the first. Is that being fair to my congregation? Is this a legitimate form or style of doing ministry?

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie