Thursday, May 5, 2011

Clergy and Marriage

One of my pet peeves in life is the fact that more and more Episcopalians, even clergy, are taking a Roman Catholic view of the sacraments rather than an Anglican one. I saw this as candidates before the Standing Committee in Dallas would explain their view of the Eucharist. I wonder if this is not part of the current debate about so-called “open communion.” If one believes that the Eucharist will benefit a person no matter what their own personal spiritual situation, then by all means go into the local market and give it to everyone.

Another area is that of marriage, and this is most illustrated regarding married clergy. I find that most Episcopalians that I know view married clergy from a Roman perspective. What I mean is that Episcopalians see our clergy as Roman priests who are allowed to have a live in companion. This is ok as long as we spend 50 to 60 hours a week attending to parishioners and their needs. Yes, Episcopal leaders will often acknowledge how hard being a Priest is on one’s family, and there is the problem.

Let me be absolutely clear about this. My being married and my marriage to Sharon is central to my vocation as a priest. If I am to be the shepherd that I am supposed to be for the people of the congregation, this flows out of my vocation as a husband (and a father.) Being married is not something that I am allowed to do in addition to being a priest.

If I have any regrets about being ordained, the main one has to do with my relationship with my sons. I wish that when I was younger that I had given them more quality time. I was off overworking in parishes and I justified this by saying that I was trying to be a good parish priest. In the Anglican view, as I give myself to my family, I am giving myself to my vocation. It was a wise older priest who taught me this hard lesson.

I remember an incident in the Diocese of Texas that deeply troubled me. One young clergy family was faced with a major medical crisis with their son. This demanded them spending many hours at the hospital and in therapy helping. After a while, the Vestry asked the Bishop to remove the clergy. “After all,” they argued, “We brought him here to minister to us and not his family!” It never occurred to them that God had brought that particular family to them for their opportunity to offer ministry. When the Bishop heard this, he shook his head and said, “They just don’t get it.” They never did either and eventually forcing him to resign.

Having said this let me ask how clergy are to model the Christian vocation of marriage if we do not get this ourselves? One of the critical issues in our success driven meritocracy is that men and women are consistently asked to sacrifice their marriages and family at the altar of success. Christians should be a counter-culture to this and it could start with our attitude toward our clergy.


Greg said...

Eugene Peterson made this same point to a couple of minister buddies and me last year. He said he felt an obligation to educate his church about what he does since ministry is mostly mystery to the church attender. He explained to them how vital his marriage was to his life and that he would Sabbath on Monday with his wife. They would hit a nearby wooded trail together and spend the morning in prayer and journaling, lunch together and drive home and chat in the afternoon. He said it was the best thing he did for his ministry and his marriage. Good words Kevin!

Rebel said...

Yes - thank you. This was especially meaningful to me, a married woman, as a postulant to holy orders!