Sunday, October 31, 2010

Priesthood of all Believers

I've been a member of a few different religions in my life thus far, and now there is always a slight temptation to abandon ship when things aren't all peachy.

There is also the feeling of rejection; I rejected previous faith traditions for some reason, and therefore they must have had nothing of real value if I didn't stay, right? The zeal of the convert makes it very hard to see things clearly.Sometimes I suddenly realize something of great value in a previous tradition, and it reminds me that God has had something of value to say in each one of them.

The hardest one has always been the LDS Church (commonly called the Mormon church). As the majority religion where I grew up and also the religion of my family, it played a big role in my childhood. It was always the easiest one to hate, too. Strict moral rules, strict gender roles, a rejection of everything not Mormon, and other personal things made it easy for me to leave the LDS Church as an idealistic teenager.

A friend of mine, however, called that all into question last summer. In addition to introducing me to a great guy (a gay returned missionary, no less!), she showed me a deeply intellectual, questioning side to the Mormon church. She brought me to the edges of Mormon culture, forcing me to confront what I formerly was.

In the LDS Church, basically half of the members are priests. Half! Men are ordained to the priesthoods and exercise their priesthood under the direction of the local bishop and stake president. Priests abound! There is no shortage of priestly ministry.

It's not difficult to find someone with the appropriate priesthood if you're Mormon. We in other traditions, however, tend to reserve it in smaller groups. We ordain "the few, the proud." It's something special and it carries an enormous weight. We send future priests off to seminary to study for a few years, and, of course, seminary is something that few lay people will ever have the resources to attend. We want our leaders to be specially formed and trained because the whole church is responsible for those it ordains so we are more selective.

Then we talk about the 'priesthood of all believers' and invoke the image of a 'whole nation of priests to serve our God' (from Revelation 5). Do we in the Episcopal and other churches really believe that? We try to talk about priestly ministry for laypeople but then restrict things to the chosen few. Many people may have gifts, but we want only a few to have "The Reverend" in front of their name. We struggle to have clergy for tiny parishes in the rural parts of the country, and a church is lucky to have a single full-time priest. We begrudgingly ordain people to serve locally instead of embracing it. We lament that they won't have a 'proper' seminary education and refuse to see the problem that we set the bar for educating laypeople so low. (A side note: in my part of the country, Mormons in public schools leave campus for a seminary class every day)

So thank you, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for teaching me the value of laypeople and the priesthood and just how freely God gives grace.


Ariel said...

I learned a great deal from Mormonism... I'm glad I helped show you something that shook you enough to open a space in which God the Spirit could teach.

I think we should both write books.

Kimberlee Stiens said...

I think you guys should co-write a book. I'll write the very special intro. ;)

Karl Julian said...

Yes! A co-written book! Let us write it!