I am shaking my head in unhappy surprise these days at the attitude of my fellow Anglicans and their refusal to even try to follow the chain of command set up in the diocese.
Our present Bishop, within not only his rights as chief pastor of the diocese but also within the boundaries of the episcopal guidelines is attempting to put into place standards of training for each lay position....standards that at some point in our past history became lax to the point of being non-existent. In order to keep certain parishes running during times of financial distress and lack of trained clergy, over the past decades many volunteers have ended up in positions within the church who have had little to no actual training to do their ministry "properly", or, in other words, according to the way the episcopal guidelines say that ministry is best performed. Many of them have grasped the duties very well indeed and have ministered effectively and within the boundaries of what is acceptable, but some have not. There are those who have run about willy nilly doing whatever they please in their positions. Why wouldn't they if they haven't been taught otherwise?
So, now the screeching and upset has begun as our diocese attempts to set things right again. Do I understand that the insistence on standardized training is going to hurt the feelings of those who have done lay ministry for years and are tempted to feel that now, without the training programme, are "not good enough anymore?" Do I understand that those with superior theological education cannot see the point of having to take a training course that would possibly seem a "Mickey Mouse" waste of their time at best? Yes, of course I do. It is a very difficult transition for them personally and for the entire diocese to have to move in this direction after so much "freedom" has been allowed in the past in order to keep things running at all. Some are dealing with hurt feelings....to be honest I have my own temptation right now to feel hurt.
However, until and unless our Bishop starts insisting we begin following the episcopal guidelines more fully, since they are what our church practise is supposed to be about, things will continue to degenerate into a worse free-for-all than we are all ready dealing with.
One of the basic tenets of Anglicanism is the chain of authority. It is what sets us apart from the more modern "free" churches. It is part of our identity as a sect of the Christian faith. Lately it seems that notion and practise is being lost as more folk from other denominations have become involved with us. We are failing to help them understand this basic notion of submission to authority before admitting them to leadership in our churches. We need to begin restoring something that is so basic to the Anglican church and in the process it is unfortunate and sometimes will seem most unfair to those who feel their ability to perform lay ministry of whatever kind is all ready sufficient or even superior to what they would learn from a few days or weeks of standardized training from the diocese.
It is a difficult time for us here. Our Bishop is aware of the daunting task he has set for himself, but he has to do something. Too many of our parishes have been flaunting their own authority for too long and have lost respect for the bishop's position as chief pastor of the diocese. In short we are not behaving as if we are indeed Anglicans.
Perhaps each church should begin setting aside a few funds to make available to those called to minsitry but who feel they cannot spend two or three hundred dollars for a lay course. Perhaps those who are furious that after doing a ministry for years and now will be required to take a training course could forget their own hurts long enough to enquire as to the reasoning for implementing a more standardized training procedure, as is set out by the episcopal guidelines. Our bishop is filled with empathy for those upset that now they may have to take a course before continuing in their ministry. He really does understand how difficult this is for many folk who truly are perfectly capable of continuing in what they have been doing. He does understand how folk with superior theological education may feel belittled by having to take a simple course in areas of ministry they are all ready well in command of. As far as peoples' feelings, he "gets it". He truly does. Unfortunately it doesn't change the fact that standardized training needs to happen.
If those of us who feel this training is either not needed or is beneath us or is the result of a critical, unfeeling bishop, perhaps we should re-evaluate our own attitudes of submission to authority. Perhaps we should take a second look and decide if the Anglican church is really where God is placing us. Better to go elsewhere than to disrupt everyone else with our constant carping and criticism. That is my personal belief: if in good conscience you cannot submit to leadership in one denomination then find one where you can. Perhaps you will even discover that you take your problems of fitting into church with you....think carefully about that before making any sudden moves....
We humans are an egotistical lot and many of our hurt feelings are brought on by our own inability to realize that submission to rules within a chain of authority based denomination does not belittle us as followers of Christ. It simply keeps the standard of our church practise higher. Our well educated, or well experienced selves may be just the kind of necessary presence to assist the other volunteers who are not as well educated or as experienced as we participate with them in the learning process.
Why not ask the Lord for the grace, humility and even financial provision to attend the standardized training courses if we are doing or want to do lay ministry in the Anglican church? Even if the course itself teaches us nothing new about our particular ministry, we may be catalysts for the newbies to assist in bringing out their calling to lay ministry. We can be mentors and "shoulders" and examples of the kind of humble walk with God that Jesus shows us by his example.
Please can we just give it a try?
There is another huge issue involved here and that is legal liability for the diocese. If we continue to allow unlicensed volunteers to do ministry and there is a legal issue or problem that arises, the diocese has no way to prove to insurance companies that we have a standardized process in place for all leadership. Without that process we are at serious risk of a law suit and in this day and age that is not as far fetched as it may sound. It is up to our bishop and his assistants to be certain we are not in legal limbo due to a lack of process for all ministers, both clergy and lay. I don't think any of us wants that to happen, no, I am certain none of us wants that to happen. Please let us also take this into consideration before we come apart at the seams emotionally over upcoming standardized training requirements. Our Bishop has to make sure everyone in ministry of any kind is legally protected. He is doing us wrong if he doesn't create this protective process.
Let's pray together for grace to participate in and even enjoy acts of submission to our leaders who have only our best interests at heart.