Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude!

We have welcomed a new brother, Chris Tessone, to the ministry today, and we wish him all good blessings and joy in his priesthood.

John Plummer alerted me to photos of the occasion on Flickr, and I hope he meant it when he said that all comments were welcome, because this is just too adorable not to share with all of you:

liturgy dude

I'm not sure what's going on with the chasuble on the far left: is that a SHEEP applique on the front?
But look to the far right. It's Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude! We've got the jeans and the sweat shirt, we've got the do'-rag and the long hair, we've got the sandals and the kind of tilted, super casual/endearingly goofy stance, we've got the STOLE to formalize it all. If Gender Ambiguous Liturgical Dude was an action figure (John, that's not you, is it?), I would so want one for Christmas.

PeaceBang does not necessarily disapprove. She understands that Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude is the future of the church, and if anything, just wishes that s/he had worn a darker denim and been given a stole that was more in scale to his/her size. As it is, it looks more like a pair of suspenders than a liturgical vestment.


Did this service take place on the Feast Day of the Great Pumpkin? That is some FABULOUS orange!!

Now here's something I've never seen,

home pageant
and forgive my ignorance, but when I saw it I immediately thought, "Hello, I'm Father Stuart ... and my home pageant is held in Dayton, Ohio!"

41 Comments:

Blogger Obijuan said...

In the Catholic church of my youth, that sash was the stole worn by deacons as opposed to fully ordained priests.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Caroline Divine said...

The pageant-looking stole is a deacon's stole. Ordination as a deacon (aka ordination to the diaconate) is the first of the three historic ordinations --deacon, priest, and bishop -- practiced by Anglicans, Roman Catholics (and Independent Catholics of various stripes), and Orthodox and Oriental churches. I am not sure whether Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Antiochian et al.) deacons wear this kind of stole, since Orthodox, i.e. Eastern Christians have different and more elaborate vestments from Western Christians. But Anglican (in this country, Episcopal) and RC deacons wear this. The color of a deacon's stole, like that of a priest's, varies with the liturgical feast or season (blue --formerly purple-- for Advent, purple for Lent, red for Pentecost and certain other feasts, and also ordinations, green for Ordinary Time, white for Easter and several other major feasts).

The whole deacon thing is complicated since in a number of other churches (United Church of Christ, Baptist, et al), a deacon is not ordained, though it is an important position within a congregation. So there are a lot of different understandings of diaconal ministry within Christianity. The common thread is service (diakonia) and generally churches refer back to Acts 6:1-6 for the origin of deacons.

If you want to look at the service for the ordination of a deacon in my church, the Episcopal Church, you can see it by clicking on the deacon ordination service at the Prayer Book table of contents located at
http://www.saintgabriels.org/bcp/contents.html

In the Episcopal Church as in the Catholic Church, the deacon serves directly under the bishop and has a special ministry to the poor and disenfranchised. S/he is especially responsible for proclaiming the Gospel reading at the liturgy. S/he may preach, baptize, and officiate at weddings and funerals, but does not preside at Eucharist or give absolution.

Does that make a deacon a mini-priest? Or an incomplete priest? Theologically and liturgically, no. But the theology of the diaconate IS somewhat confused --and confusing-- because, at least in the EC and the RCC, there are transitional deacons, who will within six months to two years be ordained priests, and permanent or vocational deacons, who will remain deacons. The latter generally have full time secular jobs, although in a majority of cases they also hang their hat (or alb and stole, as the case may be) at a parish. In addition to proclaiming the gospel and preaching and so on, they are very often involved in ministries with poor and marginalized people.

In the Orthodox churches the deacon has a very important liturgical role, more prominent even than in the RCC and EC. But that is a whole other story.

Oh, and a deacon is ordained by the bishop only, but a priest is ordained by a bishop (or more if there is more than one bishop at the ordination service) plus all the priests who are present. Deacons receive their deacon's stole as part of the ordination ceremony. Ditto priests with their stole.

Sorry to be my usual long-winded self, but that's a short answer to your transverse stole question.

All this goes to show that the august institution from which both you and I got our M.Div.s needs to do a little ecumenical module on liturgical garb so that its alums can find their way when visiting here and there -- and, of course, bring you in as a consultant on the non-liturgical end of things!

Peace and blessings,

Caroline Divine

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Clyde Grubbs said...

Anglican and Protestant Episcopal deacons also serve small congregations...

Deacons in some pentecostal communions are ordained.

I undertand the cross sholder stole to be a twentieth century thing for the Western church's deacons

10:00 PM  
Blogger boyinthebands said...

Blessing to Fr. Chris on his ordination day.

I had a big reply half-written but my browser failed and shut down and I lost it all.

I'll leave out all my clever commentary except that that isn't a sheep but a baptismal shell, an apt reference to the source of Christian ministry.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Peregrinato said...

The tripartite ministries of deacon, priest, and bishop comport roughly to the ministries of community, parish, and denominational leadership ministries. That's a very rough comparison--the structure is more maintained in certain liturgical traditions, but the duties comport over in the more loosely-defined ministries. As Caroline Divine said, the deaconate can be confusing, and she already explained it well. For more information, see the North American Associate for the Diaconate

1:08 AM  
Blogger juniper68 said...

well, i'm not as knowledgeable as Caroline Divine about liturgy, but I have an epscopalian friend who's been advocating for an orange season in teh fall since green goes for frickin ever.
Maybe you could take this on as a cause, Pastor.

1:50 AM  
Blogger John Plummer said...

PB - Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude is the amazing and wonderful Rev Jack of the Midwest Discordian Ministry - http://www.knightsofthesport.org/jack/ - Some of his sermons for the UU in Urbana can be found on his website.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After three years of div school, one full year internship and one part-time field ed, CPE, and the MFC, I have a hard time calling someone "Reverend" who is "ordained" in the *Universal Life Church.* What a crock. He may be amazing and wonderful but calling himself "Rev" because he filled out an online form is completely disingenuous.

9:39 AM  
Blogger John Plummer said...

Well, Anonymous, I'm sorry that you feel Rev Jack is disingenuous. Discordian, yes, but not disingenuous. Having more than my share of "legit" training and degrees (Fordham, Vanderbilt, GTF), I don't have a problem with folks who arrive in ministry through some less conventional path. Whoever we are, we earn respect through the integrity our lives demonstrate, not through whoever has given us credentials.

Another ULC ordinand (Rev Brian Robertson) used to have a fine essay up on the net about his choice. Unfortunately, his site appears to be down, but here is a snippet from the web archive:

"If one believes that the ordination practices of ULC are some kind of joke or can have no real meaning, I invite you to consider a few names of those who progressed through more traditional channels of ordination: Jim Bakker, Billie James Hargis, Jimmy Swaggart, an unknown percentage of Roman Catholic priests, and on and on. Add to those the sellers of snake-oil and prayer cloths and splinters from the cross, toss in a little Inquisition, mix in a dash of Protestant burnings and beatings of Quakers and the occasional Jim Jones. In short, it's naive to assume that the "normal" way of ordination -- school, testing and such -- is always superior and always produces, automatically, the highest caliber of ordained Ministers."

Just my two cents.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Rev. Jack Ditch said...

omg that Rev. Jack dude is a TOTAL CRANK!!1!! Anonymous hit it on the head. Being a Reverend takes years of training, the kind of training that leaves a long string of letters after your name. For Jack to just up and declare himself a Reverend and dive into the ministry without any sanction or approval from a school of divinity just devalues the entire concept of religious orders, making it some kind of hippie peacenik universalist thing rather than the recognition of personal achievement that it SHOULD be.

What kind of Christian would even let this guy in their church???

(PS The stole was a last minute decision; it was either the shorty red one, or this ugly paisley monstrosity that dragged nearly to the floor. It'll be better proportioned on the action figure.)

11:11 AM  
Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

Besides, Rev. Jack didn't just "fill out the online form." He also preaches regularly and has offered quite reasonable spiritual advice to a lot of people. I would say that his experience makes him qualified for his particular ministry. From what I understand, the ULC title is pretty much just a formality that lets him perform legal marriages, etc. That's what I understand is the point of the ULC: it gives people who have arrived at their ministry by unusual means the opportunity to act as any other formally ordained minister would.

Fr. Chris is my hero, incidentally :) I'm so proud of him!!! My old prayer buddy is a priest!!! *bounces*

11:14 AM  
Blogger John Plummer said...

I can't wait for the action figure!

11:15 AM  
Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

Rev. Jack Ditch said: "For Jack to just up and declare himself a Reverend and dive into the ministry without any sanction or approval from a school of divinity just devalues the entire concept of religious orders, making it some kind of hippie peacenik universalist thing rather than the recognition of personal achievement that it SHOULD be."

I challenge your notion that religious orders should be the "recognition of personal achievement." Do we pick ourselves for the ministry or does God choose us? Is the ordained ministry about the free gift of the grace of God, or about ourselves striving with our own efforts? Is it about intellectual achievement or about service?

Of course academic achievement deserves respect, and people who earn academic degrees have the right to display them. But Rev. Jack isn't claiming any sort of academic degree. Now, if you want to meet him, talk with him, listen to him preach and discuss religion and philosophy, you can decide for yourself whether he is qualified for his particular ministry. But don't judge him on the basis of his ULC title alone.

Now, you certainly have the right to judge his choice of liturgical attire ;) But in a way it's appropriate because it reminds us that he doesn't hold an ordained Christian ministry. If he were to wear, say, a cassock and surplice, people would be confused about his status and role. I personally would have picked something more on the formal end, but in a way it fits his Discordian views to stand out a bit.

I think once you get to know Rev. Jack, you'll gain some more respect for him. I've known him since high school. It took me a while to get used to his personality, but if you really get into a discussion with him, you'll see how deeply he thinks about things. I wouldn't be ashamed at all to invite him to my ordination, if that were my vocation.

11:28 AM  
Blogger jledmiston said...

This is the funniest thing I've seen lately. I have a double-ear infection so 1)I needed the laugh and 2) I'm on drugs. But still.

12:40 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Oh my heavens! Controversy of a serious nature on Beauty Tips! I flap my hands helplessly at my sides!
See you over at http://www.peacebang.blogspot.com to DISCUSS.

2:15 PM  
Blogger fausto said...

As the lay chair of my congregation's Worship Committee, I am SO going to demand a deacon's stole if they want me to keep putting in the hours!

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God that's hilarious--hilbertastronaut just argued with "Rev" Jack about "Rev" Jack's comments about himself. I don't know if that is "discordian" or just stupid.

I think that someone calling himself a "Rev" but refusing to acknowledge the power and authority that comes with such a label is prone to abusing that power and authority. Denial of our power doesn't mean that we don't have that power and that we use it, for good or ill. Try Marilyn Peterson's *At Personal Risk* for a basic idea of what I mean.

The point of divinity school is personal and spiritual development, not letters after your name. It's commitment and devotion to the ministry, to the people, to God. Preach all you want, do weddings, whatever--that is not the sum of ministry. Ministry is a lot more than a "Rev" in front of your name and the ability to speak before a crowd.

"But don't judge him on the basis of his ULC title alone." I'm not. It would be fine for Jack to be a strong lay minister or deacon preach, talk philosophy and theology, do weddings thanks to the legal help of a ULC license, etc. What I take offense at is the usage of the term "Reverend". That is not just disingenuous, it is unethical. It purposefully gives an illusion to the people around you that you have done things that in reality you have not done.

I'm not trying to convince you--I'm sure I can't, people who do such unethical things are always very sure that they are in the right, different, "special," "chosen," "misunderstood," --"justified."

10:50 AM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

"I think that someone calling himself a Rev but refusing to acknowledge the power and authority that comes with such a label is prone to abusing that power and authority."

I'll readily acknowledge the power and authority granted to me by the people who call me Reverend, and I strive not to abuse it. For a person to call me Reverend is for them to call me into their service, and thus I serve. If I fail to serve well, then I will have misrepresented myself regardless of how many M.Divs I've racked up.

That said, I think you grossly overestimate the power and authority that go with the title. Reverends of any stripe only tend to carry their authority in circles that commune with the ordaining denomination. Unitarian Universalist Reverends aren't carrying a lot of street cred in Baptist circles, and likewise a Baptist Reverend might be better off keeping their title to themselves in Catholic circles. As a ULC Reverend, most mainstream folks ain't even giving me the time of day.

"What I take offense at is the usage of the term Reverend. That is not just disingenuous, it is unethical. It purposefully gives an illusion to the people around you that you have done things that in reality you have not done."

Ironic how I'm being chastized for unethically misrepresenting myself by an anonymous poster. I make no secret of my qualifications and education. It's right there on my website for all to see. There is not a person who comes under my pastoral umbrella without knowing the full story of my ministry. You speak as if my ULC ordination were my shameful secret, but I wear it as a badge. There's simply no misrepresentation occurring.

The ultimate irony is that most of my work is with people who have been burned in some way by traditionally ordained clergy. People come to me, call me "Reverend" and grant me authority because the rest of y'all, with all your degrees and institutional ordinations, screwed up and left them out in the cold, because of their beliefs or their lifestyle or even just oversight. People come to me because they'd rather have a guy who treats his ordination like a joke than someone who stands on their ordination like a pedastal. I could get a seminary education, but why would I want to? There's nothing a seminary could teach me that I'm not out there learning in the field on my own.

I can't help but think the real sting of seeing my title is that it highlights the uselessness of a seminary education. Reverend Jack, with all his bumbling personal faults, patchwork education and limited resources, is nonetheless out there doing at least as good of a job as many folks who forked over thousands of dollars and years of their lives for "training" and denominational support. That's gotta be painful to face.

So by all means, don't call me Reverend. Just call me Jack. It will only highlight even more the diminishing effectiveness of traditional churches when I'm out there cleaning up your messes.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"The ultimate irony is that most of my work is with people who have been burned in some way by traditionally ordained clergy. People come to me, call me "Reverend" and grant me authority because the rest of y'all, with all your degrees and institutional ordinations, screwed up and left them out in the cold, because of their beliefs or their lifestyle or even just oversight. People come to me because they'd rather have a guy who treats his ordination like a joke than someone who stands on their ordination like a pedastal."

This isn't a well-connected piece. 'Traditional' pastors don't intentionally or unintentionally alienate people because they're 'traditional' pastors. They...well, we...alienate people because we can be insensitive or neglectful or rigid...basically because we're human and screw up (not an excuse, just an explanation). There's nothing in the ordination process that requires a pastor to be a jerk. We can do that just fine on our own.;)

7:30 AM  
Blogger John Plummer said...

I certainly don't grant any automatic authority to anyone based on being called Reverend or Father or Mother or Pastor (or having MDiv or DMin or PhD tacked on after their names). If anything, I am probably more suspicious, perhaps because I too have a claim to some of those degrees and titles, and know myself too well. Such suspicions are also fueled by the fact that I've been on the receiving end of no small amount of condemnation and a very serious betrayal of personal confidence, all at the hands of extremely well-qualified mainstream (not oddball or fundamentalist) clergy.

I choose to take people as they are, and trust them as I come to know them. For several years, I attended a small independent sacramental parish in New York City. The volunteer pastor was entirely self-taught, and was (and is) one of the finest priests I've ever been privileged to know. Experiences like that changed my point of view on the necessity of formal theological education for ministerial formation.

Is a gifted self-taught pastor, in a marginal group, less worthy to be called "Rev" than, for example, a seminary friend of mine who lied her way through her mainline denomination's theological exams and psychological testing process (even taking classes on psychological testing to learn to beat the system) in order to get ordained?

Obviously, there are many fine people serving in paid, mainstream ministry (or what Roger Williams, in a snarky moment, called "the hireling ministry"). But it's certainly not the only way, or even a better, more exalted way. After all, our ancestors the apostles were not exactly a refined lot, with graduate degrees and CPE certificates.....

Some years ago in a class at Vandy, Sallie McFague remarked to us that, in the history of humanity's religious quest, it is a very modern and relatively odd idea that academic training can qualify a person for spiritual leadership. Good point, Sallie.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Chris T. said...

A couple of comments on Anonymous' last response:

The point of divinity school is personal and spiritual development, not letters after your name.

Sadly, very few people I know who have been to seminary (and I know dozens) actually found they developed personally or spiritually there. So I don't think this holds much water. But if the idea is that only people who quit their jobs for three years and move are really committed to the ministry, I definitely disagree. If anything, I'd say folks who work a full-time job and then devote the rest of their time to ministry are more likely to be dedicated to it than folks who get a paycheck for it.

Incidentally, the Brethren, who have primarily free ministers, actually voted about a century ago whether paid ministers were capable of preaching the Gospel, or whether all ministers should be unpaid. They ultimately decided you paid folks were capable, but the vote was close, if I remember my history correctly.

It would be fine for Jack to be a strong lay minister or deacon ... What I take offense at is the usage of the term "Reverend".

Why must "Reverend" be attached only to full-time, paid ministry by people with master's degrees in divinity?

My major objections to that implication are that a) it's a very modern notion which has no basis in the history of the church, and b) it's based on stereotypes about university educated folks that simply aren't true. I have more theological sophistication than lots of mainline pastors, many of whom enter seminary not even really knowing the Bible, and I don't have an M.Div. Merely having the degree doesn't tell you much of anything about a particular person, and I think it's especially dangerous to attach religious categories to a system like the university. What about that degree suggests to you it's required for celebrating the Eucharist (which seems to be the major category missing from what you think Rev. Jack and people like him should be able to do without a degree)?

10:52 AM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

"They...well, we...alienate people because we can be insensitive or neglectful or rigid...basically because we're human and screw up"

Speaking of which, I do want to apologize for the extreme tone of my last post. I didn't quite mean to go so far as to portray traditional ministers as the cause of all problems while holding myself up as the solution. I got in a huff. Sorry about that.

Chris, John and others are doing a much better job than I was of defending my ministry, so I'll shut up now. :-)

6:11 PM  
Blogger GloryintheMorning said...

I said it before the GA pictures went up, and I'll say it again (please read the following in a gentle, soothing, non-confrontational, non-"freak"ing tone):
Unless someone voluntarily poses for a picture and knows what it's for...
or unless you cut their face and/or other identifying marks out of the photo...

I think it's below the belt (pun intended) to dish it up on our innocent colleagues, who might not enjoy being called "adorable" (and other not-so-nice names) for all the world to see & weigh in on.

(I guess someone died and made me Playground Monitor. Do I get an orange sash too?)

Say what you will about Rev. Jack (oh, sorry -- y'all already have), but he & his friends did NOT deserve to be forced into issuing an apologia for his choice of wardrobe at a Holy Event, his vocation, and how he's going to dress the Rev. Jack Action Figure.

Below the belt, I say.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

Thanks for your well-intentioned non-confrontational defense, Glory, but I gotta say, this thread has been one of the delights of my week thus far. I laughed at the initial post, and the ensuing discussion gave members of my religious community the opportunity to expound quite eloquently on their beliefs (Testify!) We even learned a bit about the use of stole position to indicate rank in the Catholic tradition. On the whole, I'm chalking it up as a positive experience, with many thanks to PeaceBang.

Furthermore, I must caution: Anyone who posts pictures of themselves on the internet is opening themselves up to ridicule. Likewise and moreso for anyone who stands before the public as a minister. We can argue over whose judgment is more fair and better founded--she can judge me, you can judge her for judging me, I can judge you for judging her for judging me. But By God and Hail Eris, the better people will be the ones who can laugh at how stupid we all look, and love us anyway.

Maybe it's just the Italian Catholic guilt in me: how dare I take offense at someone insulting my wardrobe when Jesus forgave the people driving nails through his hands and feet! But I'll nonetheless echo a sentiment I shared on PeaceBang's main blog: Our ability to take a joke is like training wheels for the much greater depths of compassion we are called to show one another. I don't understand how we can face the worst in humanity with forgiveness and love if we can't face a good-natured jest.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Chalicechick said...

Reverend Jack,

When you hire a lawyer, do you pick someone who is learning his law on the streets, or someone who actually went to law school?

If you need a heart surgeon, are you going to find an actual heart surgeon, or someone who just feels moved to heart surgery and assumes it will all work out?

Though formalized education is a relatively recent thing, when somebody says "I taught myself to argue tax law" or "You don't need formal education to perform heart sugery. I'm as good a heart surgeon as anybody else." I am disinclined to believe them.

Wouldn't you be?

CC

7:35 AM  
Anonymous Chris T. said...

Though formalized education is a relatively recent thing, when somebody says "I taught myself to argue tax law" or "You don't need formal education to perform heart sugery. I'm as good a heart surgeon as anybody else." I am disinclined to believe them.

I think the analogy between ministers and doctors/lawyers is a very bad one. The problem is that while one can learn techniques for curing bronchitis or hiding assets from the IRS, I don't think it's at all clear that seminaries can actually teach techniques for getting closer to God.

We certainly do have rites we use to create sacred space, but there is no sense in which the Eucharist is susceptible to technology in the way medicine or law is. (I'm using technology in a very broad sense, obviously.) Performing the role of a minister requires spiritual development, not technical sophistication of the kind transmitted in graduate programs.

It would certainly be possible for some kind of residential program to be created that would focus strongly on spiritual development, but I just don't see seminaries doing that. Especially now, with biblical literacy and awareness of the tradition at an all-time low.

But mostly, I think those of us on the "free minister" side of things are just arguing for a "salt of the earth" approach to ministry. It is a sacramental role (not to be confused with a ritualistic role, of course). That role need not be filled by educated people. In fact, I'd say we lose our connection to the Christian project if we do insist that only the educated are able to celebrate the Sacraments.

What seems to be going on is that many folks, especially Protestants, conflate the pastoral role with the priestly role. Ministry is about being a priest -- preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments. The pastoral role is important in communities, and many priests/ministers can fill that role. It does involve some "technological" sophistication (though I'd stress that good counselors still cannot be made by graduate programs, and one can be educated in counseling without going to grad school). But it's not to be identified with ministry. They're distinct, though often connected, roles.

Anyhow, I should probably stop rambling. But the bottom line is, while professional ministers undoubtedly contribute hugely to the Christian religion -- in terms of evangelism, as counselors, as leaders in our sacramental relation to God and to the world -- I think it is very, very dangerous to simply professionalize ordained religious leadership. We're missing a lot when we declare, as a faith, that only educated (and thus comparatively wealthy) people can serve in that role.

(I've also ranted before that the debt denominations put ministers in is sinful and, when the denom is lending at interest, actually usurious. It really gets to me. But that's a topic for another day.)

8:36 AM  
Blogger Chalicechick said...

One can become very comfortable with one's own body without a medical education. Those who are focussed on such things often pay very close attention to things like caffeine, sugar and fish oil intake and become experts on what works for them. Sometimes, the insightful ones can usefully suggest things that have worked for them to other people.

At the same time, what works for one person isn't necessarily what works for another person. Medical training gives one a chance to learn what we as species have figured out and learned on a macro scale. You learn what mostly works and what mostly doesn't and, more importantly, why.

Now as a Doctor, you can take whatever approach to the human body you want, be it pediatrics or plastic surgery or psychiatry, when you get out of school, but your training has exposed you to lots of ideas and the many ways other people solve the same problems you will face.

My guess is that a theological education is similar. People have been thinking about theological ideas literally since the dawn of humankind. Going to school for theology suggests that you get that they might have come up with something in that time, perhaps something you couldn't come up with on your own.

Can you read up on this stuff by yourself? Sure. Much like you can read up on the body and how it works on your own. But at a good theology school, some smart person has already come along and picked out some books that you really need to read, ideas that you really ought to be exposed to.

I've met some self-trained ministers who were nice people, even inspiring at times. But IMHO, there was a certain lack of depth to them. They never seemed to get too far beyond "This is what I believe, this is what works for me."

Not saying Rev. Jack is like this. But some ministers who felt they didn't need an advanced education seem to be.
CC

11:29 AM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

Man, I've heard the surgeon comparison so many times that it's cliche, and I gotta wonder at the audacity of folks who make such a comparison to their own ministerial skillset, as if any of the lessons they learned in school came close to that level of precision. It's worth noting that such comparisons are always to fields in which a degree is legally required to practice at all--medicine, law. Thus they dodge the real issue: when we seek someone with a specialized skill, we seek the people with TALENT, which may or may not be the people with degrees.

I work in information technology, and I have seen on several occassions how freshly minted Masters of Comp Sci are not only inferior to someone with three years of job experience, but also inferior to clean-slate newbies due to the various unrealistic ivory-tower academic habits and expectations they have to unlearn. Like ministry, info tech is a discipline where most of what needs to be learned will be learned in the field, rather than in a classroom.

My undergraduate degree comes from one of the top ranked theatre conservatories in the nation, and I saw how my school could take the best actors and make them even better. And yet, every one of those actors was more talented on the first day of their first year than most folks with completed theater degrees from Ye Olde State College. Like ministry, acting is a talent that cannot be taught, only polished.

I once heard it joked that people who are good at writing become writers, and people who aren't become English majors. Like ministry, writing and painting and all manner of fine arts are best pursued by JUST DOING IT, and the world's judgment of the quality of our work will almost never regard the degrees on our resume.

To learn how to be a better minister, I go to the people who are talented in ministry. I'm not finding these people teaching in seminaries, nor do I find that seminaries are reliably producing such people. Growing up Catholic, the best ministers were to be found in the laity, amongst people pursuing ministry as a passion rather than a profession. Looking at my peers in ministry who have degrees today, I find that the best of them seem to succeed despite their seminary training, rather than because of it. I seek to be an innovator, and even the most liberal of seminaries seem counterproductive to innovation, thinking that religious ministry is about minimizing risk and promoting virtue rather than laying it all on the line for the hope of forgiveness. If there was anything of value to be learned in a seminary that came close to the cost in time and money, I would pursue it. But alas for us all, there is not.

I'd generally agree with those who have said that a degree tells us little about the quality of a minister, one way or the other. But if push is going to come to shove, and if we're going to speak of who we are inclined to believe, then I am going to sing the praises of the unordained. If I've made a mistake in calling myself Reverend, it is only because the greatest among us claim no such title.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

Just so I don't seem too disagreeable, some words of agreement...

"Can you read up on this stuff by yourself? Sure. Much like you can read up on the body and how it works on your own. But at a good theology school, some smart person has already come along and picked out some books that you really need to read, ideas that you really ought to be exposed to."

I'm reminded of a lesson I learned in my college years, when I was exploring the possibility of becoming a Jesuit. A Presbyterian minister who was mentoring me at the time said, "The great thing about Jesuits is that, whatever new idea I have as a Protestant, a Jesuit can tell me why it didn't work when they tried it four hundred years ago." I have always been a great lover of the lessons to be learned from tradition. I thirst to be mentored by those with experience.

For this reason, it doesn't seem right for us to split ministers up into "seminary trained" verses "self-taught." I'm hardly self-taught. Rather, I'm taught by all those who have wisdom to share with me. Were I to build my ideal seminary, it would not be a place in which people earned degrees and ordinations, but rather simply a place where those with wisdom can gather and share it with those seeking wisdom. That's what we really need. As a matter of personal opinion, I think the degrees and ordinations just get in the way.

"I've met some self-trained ministers who were nice people, even inspiring at times. But IMHO, there was a certain lack of depth to them. They never seemed to get too far beyond 'This is what I believe, this is what works for me.'"

This sentiment really resonates with me, and has been an ongoing frustration of mine with much of the liberal ULC community (and heck, much of the open-minded but unswayably Catholic/Baptist/Methodist/UU/etc community as well.) To find "what works for me" is to limit my ministry to myself. I'll frequently let other people know what works for me, but if it doesn't work for them, I find that the challenge to me as a minister is to find something that does work for them. I may not have all the answers, but I'm called to help them seek, and I think that's what gives real depth to a minister.

We live in a culture where evangalism and ministry have become simply the mass-marketing of our personal beliefs, but I think the real talent lies in hand-crafting unique beliefs for each person.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Chalicechick said...

Sorry for the Surgeon cliche. Things become cliches when they occur naturally to lots of people I suppose.

I'm not quite ready to say that the ministry is like the arts. I will concede that it's not surgery, though. Perhaps it's like being a therapist or an architect, where there is talent, but where a solid base of knowledge is really useful.

FWIW, I'm not a minister, nor do I have an MDiv. I do drawings and research for a Patent Law Firm.

That said, I've met some IT people who just had IT skills and hadn't even gone to college. Right now, some of my co-workers haven't gone to college.

They can physically do the work, but I'm not impressed with their soft skills. They tend to hang around people like themselves and are interested in few topics of conversation. Most of them seem to have decided who they were when they were about seventeen and don't seem to have much interest in revising that.

Even the folks from Ye Olde State College are a little more developed socially and intellectually than most of the folks with just high school whom I've met. Not universally true in either direction, of course, but often true in my meandering experience.

The ministerial equivilent doesn't sound like they would be much help in my spiritual journey. (Again, not saying that you specifically are there.)

I believe what my experience forces me to, and don't particularly need my beliefs handcrafted by a minister. But a minister who can have similar experiences to me and offer new interpretations can really be useful.

Maybe the minister can come up with a bunch of totally new ideas. If the minister is that good, great, though they might be more of a prophet than a minister. Maybe you're that good. I don't know.

But, for the rest of us, a solid understanding of what didn't work for the Jesuits and why doesn't seem like a bad beginning at all.


CC

2:36 PM  
Blogger GloryintheMorning said...

I'm glad that you find this humorous and instructive, Rev. Jack, really I am! You are a shining beacon of grace and humility, and I probably wouldn't suffer the attention and public critique of my colleagues as well as you have. Kudos to you, my man.

I wasn't necessarily defending you, personally, as much as I intended to ask -- rhetorically, of course -- whether we ought not to expect more from ourselves. I can't speak for any other tradition, but our Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association has crafted its Guidelines-cum-covenant with thoughtfulness and the expectation that we hold each other to the spirit of that covenant.

Our Guidelines include the promise that we "will not speak scornfully or in derogation of any colleague in public."

Who's a "colleague"? UU's only?

And what's "scornfully"?

I DON'T think that an illustrated guide to the "Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude" is derogatory, but it sure is public. And, I think, it approaches (merely approaches) a line beyond which we ought not tread.

I apologize for being the Sole Naysayer, the wet blanket, the squeaky wheel, in this bunch of commenters. I love you, PeaceBang, and this hammy blog of yours. I love all of YOU, Gentle Commentators, for your insight and humor.

I'm just surprised that I'm the only one out there who's willing to say that when you point at someone else, you make an "ass" out of you and me... no, wait, that's not right.... when you point at someone else, first you must take the plank out of your eye... nope, that's not right either....

Proverbally yours,
G.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Aola said...

Dear Peace Bang,
I really wish all your long winded preacher friends would go over to your serious blog so you can get on with the business of fashion.

Big Smile!!

10:23 PM  
Blogger GloryintheMorning said...

Aola,

As an long-winded offender, let me extend an olive branch by obliging your request for fashion talk:

Did you know that the ABC & NBC websites both have a feature called "SeenON" that lets you buy the clothes worn by your favorite character on your favorite TV shows, episdode by episode??

For example, you can buy Grace Adler's (of Will & Grace) clothes & accessories here: http://nbc.seenon.com/index.php?v=wgga


... and -- ooh! ooh! Gentlemen! Lookee here -- you can buy George O'Malley's (of Grey's Anatomy) clothes & accessories here:
http://abctvstore.seenon.com/index.php?eid=&v=abcgryjsodrm&fil=on&fchr=64

So the next time you have a burning desire to dress like any of the "Desperate Housewives" or your other imaginary TV friends, shop on!

11:38 AM  
Blogger Rev. Sean said...

"There's nothing a seminary could teach me that I'm not out there learning in the field on my own."

This statement, is for me, the crux of the problem. It is an assumption, plain and simple, and it's based on arrogance.

One thing a good seminary might actually be able to impart is some plain old humility. It might also be able to help a person become self-differentiated enough to be able to separate the "some" bad ministers out there from the "all."

8:42 PM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

"This statement, is for me, the crux of the problem. It is an assumption, plain and simple, and it's based on arrogance."

Actually, it's based on about half a decade of searching.

Think about it this way: Internship is the capstone of just about any decent seminary program. I've been in unpaid internship with my local UU churches for going on three years now, to the point where I'm now the president of the board of governors at one of them. I've also sought out teachers and counselors, spending much time in discussion with other local ministers who have greater experience and responsibility, to learn the lessons that can only come from the guidance of an expert. Oh, and then there's the reading--I've kept myself on a steady (though relatively light) diet of books on the practice of ministry, the sociology of religion and the formation of spirituality. These things are all available to me in my local community at insignificant cost; this is what I consider the baseline of free resources available to those who are called to religious ministry.

The whole time, in all my searching, I've kept my eyes peeled for an institution or denomination which could offer me more for my time and money in seminary than I am finding out in the field. I simply haven't found one.

I don't say this to brag or lift myself up. What I have yet to learn far outweighs what I've already learned. This isn't arrogance about myself, but rather an opinion on the quality of the various places I might go to be educated in the practice of ministry.

Seminaries seem to me more like licensing warehouses for denominations seeking to hire ministers than true homes of spiritual and ministerial development. They may serve the latter function, but internship-like voluntary service in a local church serves that function just as well, without demanding thousands of dollars. Seminaries are more for the denomination than the minister: they serve to teach the rules and standards of the hiring body, granting license to ministers to seek employment in churches that recognize the validity of the seminary. They are worth the cost only to those seeking employment in a particular company.

Part of me thinks it'd be great to make money as a minister someday; part of me thinks I should rather model myself after St. Paul, and claim my day-job and the unpaid nature of my ministry as signs of my integrity. Either way, though, I'd rather be a talented unpaid minister than a paid crappy one, and that's what's guiding my decision not to pursue a seminary degree at this time. I'm looking for opportunities to become a better minister, regardless of payment, and from what I've seen, seminaries are not the best opportunity for that particular goal.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Peregrinato said...

Either way, though, I'd rather be a talented unpaid minister than a paid crappy one, and that's what's guiding my decision not to pursue a seminary degree at this time.

This presents, perhaps unintentionally, a facile binary: Is the working assumption that there are two options--crappy/paid versus quality/gratis? Why not go for talented professional--where you are held accountable to a faith community and not just doing what your mojo directs you to do? And, in this binary, does this mean that those of us who have chosen the discipline of learning within a seminary context have opted for crap?

You do use a significant word: talented. However, ministry needs more than talent, it needs skills, and skills are developed through mentoring and experience. Talent is necessary but insufficient. This is not just true in ministeral work: I learned this in my counselor training, prior to seminary, where a bunch of talented "people"-oriented people still had to learn the skills of effective counseling--many of which are counter-intuitive.

For the record, I found my greatest spiritual growth to date to take place within the seminary. (I am experiencing a post-seminary growth worth discussing another day.) I grew from reading things I would not normally choose to read on my own literary diet.

I do believe that this discussion does hit upon an important issue--where does "professional education" end, and "ministerial formation" begin? Where do "calling" and "credentialling" intersect, or even collide? But I'm not sure that chucking the baby out with the bathwater is the solution.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Booty said...

Peacebang, what are your thoughts on up-to-the-knee black leather boots on female clergy?

11:20 PM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

"This presents, perhaps unintentionally, a facile binary: Is the working assumption that there are two options--crappy/paid versus quality/gratis?"

Just to clarify, I didn't mean to create such a dichotomy. The world abounds with both quality/paid and crappy/gratis ministers. I meant only that, if someone came to me seeking advice on how to become a paid minister, I'd tell them to enter a seminary of the denomination they'd like to work for, but if someone came to me seeking advice on how to become a quality minister, I'd suggest a course similar to what I have taken: attend several churches, get to know the religious practices of your community, find one or more places to serve and start serving. You'll advance and be given greater responsibility as your gifts and graces merit.

It's hardly a binary condition. I know folks who have become paid ministers simply by building up experience, without ever getting a masters degree. And any seminary-educated minister will be out in the field serving, just as I suggest, as soon as they graduate. Anyone who sticks with it long enough and doesn't totally suck should drift towards paid/quality over time. But unless one specifically makes getting paid a high priority in their ministry, there are frequently better options than seminary for learning the art of ministry.

One other thing I'll note, since it hasn't been mentioned anywhere in what's become a multi-blog conversation: Even a fantastic seminary experience only qualifies you within denominations that recognize the authority of the seminary. A large part of my ministry and my calling is that I'm not a minister of a particular denomination; I'm a minister of religion, period. I'm called to minister to all people, regardless of their faith. No matter what seminary I attended, there would be people amongst those I'm called to serve who would not recognize the validity of it. Reconciling myself with this reality means that seminaries lose most of their appeal to me as authorizing/licensing bodies: they may have the power to make someone UU clergy, Methodist clergy, Catholic clergy, etc, but none of them have the power to make the kind of clergy that I am becoming. And so, I seek education from a variety of sources, asking not what authority they can grant me, but only what they can teach me.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Reverend Jack said...

Sorry for the double-post, but something else worth talking about:

Why not go for talented professional--where you are held accountable to a faith community and not just doing what your mojo directs you to do?

It's a tough balance to maintain. I come from the Roman Catholic tradition, where I watched many fine ministers, both lay and ordained, choose deference to the hierarchy over the dictates of their "mojo," or what I'd rather call the Holy Spirit. Seeing how this diminished both the quality of their work and their own spiritual health has left me with a very strong sense that the Spirit must be my ultimate guide and authority. It might lose me access to earthly resources from time to time, but it's a matter of soul-saving.

That said, accountability to a community is important. I already have accountability through my volunteer positions. To fail those I serve as a volunteer would hit me as deeply as if I failed as a professional, forcing me to re-examine my qualifications and calling as a minister. The primary difference I see between the two is that, were I a professional, I might fail my Spirit to preserve my income, and that hardly seems right.

And so I strive to both remain accountable to a community and follow the dictates of my mojo. I have no desire to be some crank who leads only the ignorant and easily swayed; accountability to a community of intelligent and good-natured people is important to me, itself a dictate of my mojo. But that doesn't necessarily equate with ordination and full-time employment by a specific denomination.

2:42 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Glory, the whole premise of this blog is to pay closer attention to the way we present as PUBLIC religious leaders. Photos taken at PUBLIC events, submitted by readers of this blog to me WITH A REQUEST for comments,will receive the courtesy of a response. Take this up with Mr. Plummer if you must, as he referred me to the photographs. At least refrain from the patronizing UU practice of projecting oppressed/marginalized status onto Jack until he's identified himself that way.

A bit of consistency on your part would be appreciated. If you don't like this blog, by all means stay away.

1:18 AM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Whereas Rev. Jack's appearance in this blog were for sartorial purposes in the first place, and whereas Rev. Jack has graciously responded to literally dozens of queries and criticisms as to the legitimacy of his ministry, and whereas this conversation has gone on long enough to engender much valuable reflection for all of us,
I, PeaceBang, hereby declare the comments on this posting CLOSED.

Thank you for your participation, everyone.

1:29 AM  

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