Home » New church » Lay vs. Ordained – power play

Lay vs. Ordained – power play

I once saw a photo of a lay person distributing the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Now, the lay person was Sara Miles, so there is that. She is part of an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco and she is a writer about religious matters. This congregation also distributes the sermons on podcasts, so I’ve learned that she has delivered many sermons.

Wait. A lay person, someone who isn’t ordained, distributing ashes, and delivering sermons? This is in a denomination that licenses people to be able to distribute the wine at communion. In order to distribute the wine at communion, you have to be an adult member in good standing. That translates to showing up for service weekly and paying tithes. Then the priest has to send a letter to the Bishop nominating you, and then you get a certificate signed by the Bishop to do this.

There are a lot of control issues in the Episcopal Church. I suspect the same is true in a lot of churches.

Note this is just for the wine. Regular, un-ordained people can’t distribute the bread unless there is something pretty severe going on like the priest has hurt his back. And they certainly can’t bless it. You have to go to seminary to learn that trick.

Jesus didn’t go to seminary, and neither did his disciples. And they weren’t ordained either.

There is definitely a hierarchy of “us and them:. The lay people are told that they are ministers too, but they certainly aren’t seen as equal, and they certainly aren’t encouraged or taught how to deepen their ministry.

So this lady, doing priest things, really woke me up. I first thought how dare she? I then thought, I wonder if the Bishop knows? Then I thought why not? Then I was jealous.

It reminded me of all the micro-managing that my old priest did. And that my old manager did. And it makes me wonder why I keep getting myself into situations with controlling supervisors.

And it makes me think that the worst kind of controlling person is one who acts like they aren’t controlling you at all.

We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been deceived. We’ve voluntarily given over the care and feeding of our souls to people we thought we could trust. Even if the priest / pastor / minister is a decent human being and not secretly embroiled in a scandal involving money or sex, we are still being led astray.

Consider a teacher. You’ll only learn what the teacher wants to show you. You won’t learn anything about what you are interested in. The teacher won’t be able to answer all your questions and if you ask a lot of questions (as I did) you’ll get some surly reactions from said teacher.

People in authority don’t like it when you ask questions. It undermines their authority. It reveals what they don’t know. It proves they are fallible. It unmasks the guy behind the curtain. You may learn it is all smoke and mirrors.

Don’t give them your power. Don’t entrust the care and feeding of your soul to another person. Question everything and everyone, and if they resist your questions, get as far away as you can. Worse, if they say they welcome your questions but distract you and don’t answer them or show you how to answer them for yourself, run.

I was lulled into a sense of complacency with the church I was in. It was pretty progressive. Big on women’s rights, gay rights, equality for all. Open to other faith traditions. But there is still that division of lay versus ordained. There is still the training that ordained people get that lay people don’t.

The priest can’t be everywhere. Remember the idea of don’t put all your eggs into one basket? Don’t put all of your ministry into the hands of one person.

What would it be like if Jesus had fed only his disciples with that bread and fish?

He didn’t. He gave thanks for it, and broke it, and it was distributed and fed thousands. This is what we are to do with everything. This isn’t just about food, or money, or power. Nothing is for keeping or hoarding. If we build up for ourselves treasures on earth, we are missing the point.

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