Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bigotry of "bi-vocation"

The church, in my opinion, needs to stop using the term “bi-vocation”. At this point every time I hear it my mind simply says “time to listen to some (uncalculated) lies, (outright) denial, and (unintentionally) bigoted opinions”. It is time to stop being “nice” and get real about our situation. We are not going to do that with a lack of discernment, clericalism, and parochialism.

I have met bi-vocational priest. They have discerned with the church and God amazing ministries that have them living out a personal call within two distinct ministry settings: Priest/Doctors, Priest/Teachers, Priest/Social Workers, Priest/Carpenters, and many other permutations. The church has not discerned that form of call in myself, nor with the majority of my seminary peers, nor with many of the priest currently in ministry. A priest called to a position that requires supplementing income with another job is not suddenly “bi-vocational”. They are just a priest who needs to make sure they can eat. Personally I am all right with this being a possible personal reality, things are tight out there for everyone. Just be honest with me about this reality, do not try to glorify it by calling it “bi-vocational”, do not dishonor my friends truly called to bi-vocational ministry.  

I have met congregations where the laity have been honored enough to recognize their gifts to lead worship, preach, and provide each other pastoral care. Generally, however, the church is still afraid of empowering the laity to the point where they feel they can worship without a priest present. One priest cannot be in four places on Sunday but the priest can meet with a group of three trained lay preachers for bible study and breakfast and hash out sermons together each week. Maybe each community does not have Eucharist each Sunday, but a schedule can be coordinated so that each community has access to the Eucharist each week. This is a matter of lay education, lay empowerment, and taking priest off of pedestals. AKA this is a matter of really hard work that will be ridden with conflict and risk versus the easy route of “bi-vocational’ clergy.

The major hurdle there, of course, is our latent parochialism. The church has infected its parishes with generations of defining themselves against each other, of refusing to see our commonality and being proud and defiant of our differences. If clergy, lay church administrators, lay church ministers (education, music, etc.), and the people in the pews began looking at themselves as ministers of the Episcopal Church in geographic region X that holds parishes A, B, and C instead of opposing forces A, B, and C fighting over the scarce resources of region X then I swear the majority of our issues would disappear. Imagine area clergy coming together and having one 24 hour emergency pastoral care phone that gets handed over week after week. Or instead of three quarter time parish administers there was one full time running one office and one bulletin production house. Imagine having an area associate to cover youth and young adult ministries, clergy sabbaticals and vacation, and a different view from the pulpit.

So please stop using the term “bi-vocational” and thinking exhausted priest working part time jobs that are not their vocation while doing full time ministry to a parish is actually the answer to our problems and not an inherent, if requisite, problem in itself. Please start respecting those priest truly called to bi-vocational ministry, please start empowering the laity, and please stop fighting with the parishes that neighbor the one you go to.

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