Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pastoral Authority

A friend of mine got hurt last night.

She's very okay, in case you were worried - took a bad fall and her muscles seized up. Which presented as neck pain and partial paralysis. You can see how this would be scary. But she's okay - this was a pretty standard sports injury, and everyone's doing fine.

No, what was fascinating was everyone else's reaction. Y'see, I'm here at seminary, where most everyone's training to be a pastor. And I swear to you, you have never seen a more pathetic thing than thirty seminarians, all of whom want desperately to help, and none of whom know what to do. We don't move, because we don't want to step on someone else's toes. What can be concretely done is being concretely done. So what do you do with this superfluity of help, gushing from our wounded hearts?

Well, we pray, of course. But who? How? Who decides that we will pray? Where? Whence the authority to make that kind of declaration?

I imagine it will be relatively easy, when I'm a pastor of my own congregation, to step up and say, "Friends, let's pray." But right now, I don't seem to have the authority to make that call.

TBTG, someone else did - the referee, actually. And as soon as he indicated that we were going to pray, EVERYONE joined in.

But I was left with this question - is ordination really just another step in a process? Like your first day of school as a teacher, just another ritual to endure? Or is it truly something more? An acknowledgement, by a church, that you do have the authority to lead a flock, to minister, to call us to pray?

I'm not sure. But I'm jazzed to find out.


SteveB said...

I think ordination is both a ritual and an "acknowledgment." Actually, I'd call it a sacrament; we Catholics believe such things. But anyone should be able to have the authority, regardless of denomination, to issue a call to prayer and "lead" that time. The call to prayer isn't exclusive to a collar. I find it amusing that a non-seminarian was the one who actually stepped in to do it. A cynic might use it as an illustration of the wishy-washiness of the mainline churches. That's not me, but sometimes the cynics can be instructive without being right. In some ways, the ref might make the most sense to lead prayer, as he was already the recognized authority on the playing field. Which brings us back to the idea of the pastor's authority: when everyone is looking at you up at the altar or lectern, they're imparting authority onto you. But it's also the larger church body which has educated you and signed off on you as a pastor. And it's ultimately God who has called you and placed you as part of His plan for your life and the lives of others. But I imagine the first year of being a pastor has a lot in common with the first year of a high school teacher, regardless :)

The Areopagite said...

Who said the ref wasn't a seminarian? The bubble here is worse than the one at Bluebell - I'm pretty sure that he is a seminarian, in fact.

Still, you've hit the nail on the head - recognized. I certainly recognized his rightness in taking charge. In some ways, as larval pastors, we recognize our own authority, but also that of everyone else at the same level, and so we end up frozen. This happened at a choir concert as well. A girl fainted - and none of us knew who was supposed to act. We all wanted to, but nobody felt right stepping up to do so. TBTG, the chaplain of the seminary was there, and did step up.

You see my point? We're so close...but we have such a long way to go, even so.