Pastors, Priests and other roles

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It seems like I spend a fair amount of time as a Methodist Pioneer actually defining, and describing exactly what it is I am to myself and to others. It seems to be made more complicated to some because of the fact that I am not ordained, and by the fact that I have work and lay roles that often overlap. As a Methodist Local Preacher (lay) I cannot completely divorce from my day job as Pioneer employed and commissioned by the Methodist Circuit, its impossible; and yet the roles are different. The former brings me into contact and demands I minister (in)to “traditional” mainstream church, the latter calling me to move beyond, to those distanced from that space and those traditions.

So what am I? I’m a pioneer, but I’ve been talked about and addressed as: Pastor, Priest, Lay Minister, Father, Reverend and others…. so let’s explore.

The term “Pastor” derives from the Latin for “Shepherd”,  “Priest” has a more complex linguistic background it seems, emerging from Presbyter (Late Latin) meaning “an elder” and / or  from Latin praepositus a “person placed in charge”. Of course the linguistics aren’t the sole arbiter of what we might now imply and understand by these terms today, but they do give us an interesting start point.

Most obviously Pastor resonates with Jesus words to Simon Peter recorded in John 21.16 “…take care of my sheep”. It suggests a role of care, nurture and guidance “[The role of the pastor is] to help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.” so wrote Eugene Peterson “… [and to] keep the community attentive to God.”  The shepherd also plays a protective role and where necessary sacrificial one (John 10.11) putting the needs of the “flock” above the needs of self. In the mission context in particular perhaps, this latter part can be very real, as people from our little community of volunteers and helpers put themselves into vulnerable positions sometimes with relative strangers; taking food into their homes, drawing close to them in order to in turn minister to (and receive from) them.

I guess priest isn’t a term we use in Methodism with any great regularity, preferring instead the term Minister for those who are ordained. As a pioneer however, I am working both “within” and “outside” the tradition of Methodism, working with, missioning and ministering amongst people not of that tradition, and of no traditions.

“Chaplain” is a term that I sometimes use. indeed I am as part of my role formally recognised as Chaplain in two of our local schools. Traditionally the chaplain role is to be an ecclesial role somehow attached to secular institution. Typically therefore we might encounter chaplains in hospitals, schools, the military etc. However it is an approach to ministry to feels to somehow fit with much of what I am, and the role I play – encountering the secular over the overtly religious, or ecclesial. The Chaplain role is closer to just being – being present, being alongside, being available as a resource, being a friend – but I guess it doesn’t fit the bill entirely in all circumstances.

So if we go back again to those linguistic roots to consider this “priest” role we see again it is one of being “in charge”. Now where I work there’s a bit of a workplace banter around this, one of our community even bought me a giant mug (they understood my addiction to coffee) with the words “THE BOSS” written big on it. Banter yes, because although I try to hold the role very lightly, although I try to encourage and empower others around me – in the end as the person paid by the Circuit to be here, to be responsible – the scary fact (for me) is, I am in charge!

Priest, is in the end understood as a hierarchical term, and that’s probably for me as good a reason as any to steer clear of using it, but at the same time it would be completely wrong of me to deny I have power, I do – and an authority to exercise it within the bounds given to me by the wider Methodist Church. As all Spiderman and Stan Lee fans know “with great power there must also come great responsibility” and the denial of oneself holding any power is not being in least bit responsible. Each of us has power in different situations, and each of us has to decide how we choose to exercise that power – hierarchical power and authority however brings its own issues and complexities.

And so as I undertook my first baptism this Sunday of the beautiful Rebekah Ann, her young life full of hopes and possibilities; and as the parents, godparents, and church were each asked in turn to make our promises and commitments – I felt myself as both priest and pastor. In charge of the occasion, responsible for dutifully and humbly serving  God and the Church through this particular sacrament, and also aware of the part I was playing in helping each one of us there to be attentive to God and the grace that is conferred upon us all.

Starting Over

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cropped-methodist-pioneering-pathways-logo-0215.gifA friend asked earlier today where my blog page was …. I was rather embarrassed to admit I could no longer find it myself, and that in part that was because it was so long since I’d updated it. I’m so glad that we trust in a theology of second chances, if only because I know that I for one have always, and still continue to need them – and so it is with this blog.

Anyway in an attempt to use this as a prompt to redevelop this reflective disciple I have begun a new blog where I will be thinking out loud about Pioneer Ministry and my journey on that path – at times it may deviate to other matters of interest and concern, but at least (I hope) this time I will remain faithful to it. So, this is not the first blog I’ve begun, it’s not even the first blog I’ve begun about my Pioneer Pathway journey, but all the others having fallen away, this is the blog I am starting over anew with.

Some background; I’ve been working in North Sheffield (in Parson Cross, Southey to be accurate) for the Methodist Church since 2010. Originally employed as “Fresh Expressions Community worker” my job (and job title) has evolved into “Pioneer Community Worker”, combining both a community development role within the church and the neighbourhood communities I serve and a Pioneer Ministry role as I seek to develop and understand new ways of being church together with the people I meet.

The work I undertake has narrowed down over those five years to focus on two main strands:

  1. Social Activism & Social Justice issues. This includes work at a local level such as; emergency food support (food bank), campaign work both through our local organisations and as chair of Sheffield Church Action on Poverty, Acts 435 advocacy (providing access to emergency charitable aid) as well as community gardening and such like projects.
  2. Schools Chaplaincy Plus. Working in and alongside local primary and secondary schools to explore and develop Chaplaincy support as well as input into curriculum areas such as RE in addition to extra curriculum activities in schools (Prayer Days, after school clubs etc)

As well as the “day job” I am a Methodist Local Preacher, and am exploring the Pioneer Pathway from this perspective too. Just what does it mean to be one of “Mr Wesleys Preachers” in the 21st Century in such a way as to be pioneering? If the world is still my (and the Methodist church’s) parish, how does the local preacher role impact to this wider ministry when much of the role seems bound to the “Quarterly Plan”?

So here it is …. a fresh start, a new page written, this time I will attempt to keep these reflections up to date, and share with those who are interested.