Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.
One week after his ordination to the priesthood, our new curate publicly announced from the pulpit that he had to go through with it to get the job, but he did not believe in the ministerial priesthood. Should he have been ordained?
Ordination is not only a matter of ontological change: it is also an objective fact, and, whether this curate likes it or believes it, he is now a priest, and I hope that, given a few more weeks, the Holy Spirit will help him grow into that which he now is. The questioner, however, did not ask whether this individual had been ordained, but whether he should have been ordained.
During the drawn-out process of selection, and the generally shorter period of training, the candidate must have been asked about his views and understanding of priesthood in the C of E. That a candidate could progress despite admitting that he didn’t believe in the status for which he was preparing is disappointing, though, to be honest, unsurprising. To have gone through the process without revealing his views would bring his wider integrity into question.
We must also consider the motivation to place oneself in this position, a seemingly overwhelming desire to “get the job” as a priest in the C of E. The C of E does not have a monopoly on Christian ministry. Other Churches provide opportunities to be in ministry without subscribing to our notion of “ministerial priesthood”. Over the generations, many Christians have found that the place of integrity for their beliefs lay beyond the C of E. The C of E is a broad, but not a boundless, Church.
The option of having your cake and eating it, taken by this curate, is disrespectful not only to the beliefs of the C of E, but also to all those who took the difficult path of standing by their beliefs even when this denied them the full rights of a citizen of this land.
But even in the C of E there are plenty of routes to exercise ministry apart from ordination — the Church Army, for example — but deep down we probably all know that it is only “the Vicar” that gets real respect; and so I sadly conclude that this individual may be motivated more by status than by service.
If that is true, whatever his view of ordination, he probably should not have been ordained.
The blunt answer is no. If he did not believe in our Church’s teaching on the ministerial priesthood, he should never have been ordained a priest. But why were his beliefs not discovered during his selection process or before his priestly ordination? It leaves many questions to be answered by those concerned. If it was because he was dishonest, then his licence should be terminated.
(The Revd) Geoffrey Squire
In the C of E, the term “priest” is a matter of popular usage rather than theological definition. In the title of the Common Worship service for the ordination of priests, the word priest is glossed “also called Presbyters”. The Ordinal, like the New Testament, speaks of the high priesthood of Christ and the royal priesthood of the Church, not of a caste of priests in the Church.
I myself felt a call to be a vicar, and never describe myself as a priest. If he was approved by the church authorities, it was right for him to be ordained.
(Canon) John Goodchild
The implication of your questioner’s concern is that all those who have been involved in this curate’s vocational assessment and formation have somehow “got it wrong”. Perhaps the curate understands priesthood, ministry, and ordination differently from the questioner.
The Church of England is a broad Church, where various views live in creative tension alongside each other. Priesthood is something that we grow into over time, besides something we are ordained into. After just one week, there is a lot more growing yet to be done — and a lot more making mistakes and learning from them along the way.
We share in the priesthood of all believers by virtue of our baptism.
Perhaps your questioner should invite the curate to supper and have a conversation on the subject. Each might discover something new from the other.
(The Revd) Peter Sear
Why, in broadcast Choral Evensong, is the penitential introduction usually replaced by a so-called introit, lustily sung before the officiant has sung “O Lord, open thou our lips”? Why is the hymn for the office not always proper to the day?
S. D. H.
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