Of Priests and Ordinations, FAQs

 

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An informative if slightly snarky look at clergy and their ordinations.

What is a priest?

A priest is someone called by God and set apart by the church to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It may seem obvious, but the whole operation works better when those ordained to Christian ministry actually believe Christian things. Priests are charged by their bishop to “proclaim the Gospel of Christ and to fashion their lives in accordance with its precepts.” Priests are “to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.” (BCP, 531) In short, priests point people to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 4:14-5:4, 10:11-12) Occasionally we ordain folk without a deep scriptural faith. Once a colleague spoke of what a gift to the church the panentheist he was ordained with is. I can’t fathom how the fellow could take the ordination vows without his fingers crossed.

In addition, in the opening words of the ordination, priests are called to “pray, offer the Sacraments, preach, declare God’s pardon, and bless and console” (Book of Common Prayer, 531). These actions imply that priests also have gifts of gathering and leadership that they will exercise in the life of the church – ordination works much better for churches when ordained persons have leadership gifts as well.

What does the word “priest” mean?

“Priest” is an Anglicization of the Greek “presbyter,” meaning “elder.” In the Episcopal church, we follow the three historic orders of ministry: bishops, priests, and deacons (episcopos, presbyteros, and deaconos in the original Greek). A quick glance reveals that churches in the historic tradition have transliterated all three ordained roles. Most evangelical bodies combine the first two words (overseer and elder) into one role (elder) that they translate, and then transliterate deacon (which means servant).

How does one become a priest?

Through ordination, the rite in which the church grants authority and God gives the grace of the Holy Spirit necessary for the task. Needless to say, both are vital.

In the Episcopal Church our clergy neither self-select nor self-anoint. We ordain those we believe called by God in a process that is quite involved. Persons are identified by their diocese in a period of vocational discernment, trained according to the scriptures and the canons of the church (usually receiving a three-year Master’s degree from a seminary), are affirmed by a congregation, and ordained by a bishop. This process ordinarily takes around five years.

What do those being ordained do in their ordination?

The person being ordained (ordinand) pledges to be loyal to “the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them,” and affirm that they “believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation.” (BCP, 526) They place themselves under the authority of their bishop and yoke themselves to the ministry of Word and Sacrament at the hands of that bishop who stands in the long line of those touched by the original apostles two thousand years ago. Their first act as an ordained person will be to join their bishop in the celebration of Holy Eucharist. …All of which renders obvious belief in actual Christian doctrines and walking with the One to whom those doctrines refers is essential for those whose job is to “nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace.”

What is done to them in the ordination?

The Episcopal Church ordains everyone a deacon first. The role of a deacon is to serve, which reminds every priest that their first calling is to serve. The Episcopal church holds a second ordination (often six months later) to set our clergy apart as priests. This ceremony includes various rituals rich in meaning and history: prostration, laying on of hands, giving of a Bible and stole, and extending the sign of peace. In the ceremony, we will present the candidates, examine them for Christian faith and obedience to God’s calling, and pray over them asking God to set them apart as priests. The bishop will then lay hands on them and present a Bible and other symbols of their ministry. As a church, we believe in Word and Sacrament – that God is revealed through the Word of God, and is also tangibly present in the symbols of the faith: like water, wine, bread. We don’t know how this sacramental presence works exactly, but we believe it is present in ordination. I can tell you that one walks away from a sacramental ordination different…changed.

When are they actually ordained?

At the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration. This is an ancient tradition, grounded in the Bible. (Acts 13:1-5, 14:23, Titus 1:5, 2 Cor 8:19, 1 Tim 5:22, 2 Tim 1:6)

Who can ordain a priest? 

Since priests share in the ministry of Jesus passed down through the apostles through the laying on of hands and extend the ministry of the bishop in a diocese, a bishop who stands in that apostolic line ordains priests. Bishops are joined by the presence and prayers of the other priests in the diocese.
Why does the ordinand lie prostrate during the ordination?

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Not all do. Some only kneel before their bishop. Either way it symbolizes our unworthiness for the office and dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community.

What is the meaning of the laying on of hands?

The ordaining bishop and the participating priests invoke the Holy Spirit to come upon the one to be ordained, asking God to give them a holy character and setting them apart as a priest.

Why does the bishop hand the new priest a Bible? 

Because “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God and contain all things necessary for salvation” and the ordained will proclaim the Gospel revealed in the Bible and shape their life in accordance with its precepts. (BCP, 531)

Why does the newly ordained priest receive a stole?

The stole symbolizes the authority and responsibility to serve in imitation of Christ. It harkens to: “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:30)

What preparation do priests go through before ordination?

Priests have completed a challenging program of formation. By their ordination they have demonstrated competency in seven areas: The Holy Scriptures, church history, theology, ethics and moral theology, contemporary society, liturgics and worship leading, and theory and practice of ministry, including leadership, evangelism and stewardship. In addition, they have also received training in the prevention of sexual misconduct, civil requirements for reporting and responding to evidence of abuse, Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and racism.  (Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, Title III, Canon 8, Section 5) It is customary that they have also taken courses in biblical languages and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, often at a local hospital’s trauma unit.

How is this different from the pastor at my evangelical church? Or the priest at my Catholic church?

It is hard to say, as the training required of pastors in evangelical churches varies widely. Many evangelicals no longer go to seminary, but only go through a training program created by their local church. You could show them this article and ask. In terms of Roman Catholic churches, the Episcopal Church ordains women and does not require clergy to be celibate if married.

What is with the funnyclothes? 

Hmmn. By “funny clothes” I would guess you mean the cassocks and clerical collars that are clergy daily wear. Mostly these are a holdover from the days in which you could tell a person’s profession by their dress. The butcher wore a white apron, the mechanic coveralls, and what not. The Cassock (a long black robe like Neo wore in The Matrix) is a holdover from the daily fare of Romans. The detachable collar was invented in 1827 in Troy New York, and became quite the rage. Catholic clergy wore cassocks as daily dress until the 1960s (watch an episode of Father Brown on Netflix for example). The “collar” was worn originally worn by Protestant clergy. Presbyterians and Anglicans started the trend in England in the early 19th Century. When detachable collars went out of vogue, clergy, who where not as well healed as their parishioners kept wearing the old style. You can see an example of this in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart comes down for dinner in college you can see his partially attached collar standing out on his neck. Roman Catholic priests historically wear the tab collars, but I wear them in the summer as a piece of plastic around ones neck in a hot climate is less than comfy. Women’s clergy wear is a whole separate ball of yarn. You will have to consult one of them on the fine points of their attire.

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Roman Collar

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Anglican Collar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do priests do after the ordination?

Grab dinner usually. After that, though, they begin to serve as priests in our corner of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Of Priests and Ordinations, FAQs

  1. Just a small side, diverging, The Roman collar originated from a development by a Presbyterian minister (Rev’d Dr Donald McCloud 1849) who was the first to develop the black shirt white collar (which superceded Tabs) it always cracks me up because when I was a kid, protestants would have a go at you for wearing the collar as it was Catholic/Anglican and suspect.

  2. A great Protestant contribution. Along with the Hawaiian print shirt Rick Warren gave us in the pulpit. I love Rick’s generosity to give back every dollar his church ever paid him and his work with mental illness. He can keep the shirt, though.

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