HARVEY, Bob, "Priest Shortage has Church Members Helping," Ottawa Citizen article reprinted in The National Post, December 16, 2000

by Robert Brow   (www.brow.on.ca)

Necessity is the mother of invention. Bob Harvey reports that "A growing shortage of francophone priests made it necessary to appoint pastoral coordinators to administer four francophone parishes." Explaining this Archbishop Marcel Gervais said it is time for lay members and married deacons to play a larger role. He added "The issue is not just solving problems, but a new model of the church." (And of course I was delighted with his word model).

In the parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes in Vanier, a suburb of Ottawa, the parish priest died recently and the assistant is on kidney dialysis. So "Sister Jeannine Gauthier is responsible for the administration of the parish and she can baptize, marry and bury parishioners." Pastoral co-ordinators have also been appointed in Orleans and in Marionville and Chute a Blondeau."

The one thing pastoral coordinators cannot do is consecrate the elements for communion. But in many parts of the world the parish priest has a private mass to consecrate large numbers of wafers which lay people then take for services in nursing homes and distant congregations. Imagine a sister conducting a whole nuptial or requiem mass with a ciborium of wafers from the priest's office?

Archbishop Gervais said it is time the Church liberated priests from administrative work. "That way, they can devote their time to a more spiritual ministry, which is more in line with their vocation." But surely, Archbishop, you can't call the work of Sister Jeannine Gauthier unspiritual!

But that is a residual male chauvinist detail. There has been a very radical model shift which has left Protestants trailing way behind. Huge numbers of Roman Catholic lay people are being freed to exercise all sorts of ministries in the community.

The very serious downside is that the parish priest is reduced to consecrating wafers, and hearing the complaints of capable men and women who expect him to settle their differences. Added to perpetual celibacy that will even further reduce vocations to Roman Catholic priesthood.

What we need is a New Testament model of a royal priesthood in which priestly membership consists in having a function to perform (1 Peter 2:9, 1 Corinthians 12:14-25). That model is now accepted in theory, but it has left many ordained ministers confused and threatened. "If I let those wilful lay people run things, there will be nothing left for me do."

One solution is to begin with the Jewish synagogue model, as did the first Christian churches. Any ten men could become a synagogue and conduct services. As a synagogue grew bigger elders were appointed, and they soon hired a janitor to do the chores. One of the elders might become ruler of the synagogue (pastoral coordinator ?). But a synagogue came of age when they could hire their own rabbi. He did not "run" the synagogue but served them by spending most of his time in study, writing, and teaching.

I heard of such an arrangement a few years ago when John Gladstone was hired by the Yorkminster Park congregation (the Baptist Cathedral in Toronto). He told me the contract was that he had nothing whatever he had to do but study, and write and teach. And he did that superbly. That would be sheer joy to many ministers I know who would love to work hard at "rightly explaining the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

As the first century Christian congregations mushroomed they soon needed a Bishop (Superintendent) in each city and its surrounding area to facilitate and coordinate their work. There was also a need for Apostles to go and plant new congregations in other places. In that sense there has to be an apostolic succession. But that is nothing to do with ordaining celibate male priests. It has everything to do with laying hands on as many as possible who are willing to exercise their membership gifts in the world-wide church..

But in any case, both for Roman Catholics and Protestants, the art is to look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom before a model shift is forced on us by necessity (the mother of worldly inventions).

Comment from Dr. Ward Gasque, Pacific Association for Theological Studies :

I appreciated your comments on the laity. The so-called mainline churches in the USA are experiencing a similar crisis, especially in the small towns and rural areas. Take someone away from his or her home in a small town or in a rural setting, send him/her to college for 4 years and then to seminary for 3 years -- generally in a metropolitan area -- and then you wonder why they are unable or unwilling to come back to serve the church on a salary of $15,000 or so a year! Not very surprising.
But there are hundreds of dedicated lay men and women who either have never left the small town or rural area, or who have recently come (to escape the city? get away from the rat race? develop a ranch? telecommute? etc.), who could be ordained as pastors. the only problem: they don't have M.Div degrees! And it seems unlikely that they will ever get one, for you can't do that sort of thing where they live, and they either cannot (most likely) or will not leave what they are doing for seminary. But if you can provide them with theological education where they are, then they may not be fully trained as theologians but they could be much more effective because of their life experience).

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