This article was published in Herald 161-11:5 (November 2014)
So much about our faith journey is learning to stand in the uncomfortable but rich-with-possibility space of paradox. Deepest spiritual truths often emerge under statements like “the first shall be the last, and the last first,” “the way up is the way down,” “it is when I am weak that I am strong.” It takes time and effort to let them do their mysterious and miraculous work in growing us.
The ability to hold the tension of seemingly contradictory truths often is the place where wisdom is given. “Mature people are not either-or thinkers, but they bathe in the ocean of both-and,” says Richard Rohr in Falling Upward. They go to a place bigger than the rational mind can process.
I’ve been trying to stand in that “both-and” tension as we focus on priesthood ministry in new and fresh ways. I feel the “contradiction” between the Divine declaration that “all are called” and the clear guidance that some are called to particular priesthood roles.
All Are Called. All and everyone! I believe in the “priesthood of all believers.” Maybe even the “priesthood of all believers and all unbelievers”! Some days the called minister of God is an atheist or secular humanist. Other days a Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or Buddhist. Sometimes a Unitarian, Mormon, or some brand of fundamentalist. Or on other days a “fallen” Community of Christ member who seemingly got lost in a vast wilderness!
The carefully and wisely constructed structure shapes and guides us, but it cannot contain this wild God who loves to color outside God’s own lines.
I also believe, however, in the distinctive elements of the ministry of Christ found in each of the offices of priesthood (counting the offices of member and prophet-president) in Community of Christ. A congregation blessed with people who faithfully respond to the call to serve in those offices receives the holistic ministry of Jesus. Congregation members then bless and are blessed by the larger community as they together serve after the manner of Christ.
Though an unpopular perspective in many places, I believe we often are freed by structures, requirements, lines, and limits. They prepare us for healthy relationships with the larger world. Outer authority often guides us toward our own inner authority (Rohr again).
Today, I want to praise the priesthood structure in Community of Christ. Our system is goft and blessing for others – and for me. From the time my call to deacon was shared in the barnyard of our farm in Idaho in the summer of 1969 to ordination to high priest – evangelist in 2007, each office I have been privileged to serve in has revealed dimensions of me I otherwise would not have known.
Each call has revealed more of the multifaceted and holistic life, ministry, and mission of the Living Christ. Each call has connected me more deeply in sacred relationships with the body of Christ and creation.
A recent e-mail from Evangelist Blake Puckett further illustrates the gift of priesthood:
“I’ve been blessed throughout my career with the understanding that we don’t have to look too hard into our professional communities for opportunities to be good stewards over our ministry. It was made easy for me to see in public-school education. I was really awakened to one of the most important roles I served in one day. While [I was] getting ready to start an all-school assembly, a second-grade student tapped me on the knee and asked, “Are you the pastor here?” During my 30 years in the school district I conducted over 30 weddings for teachers, their adult children, and sometimes their parents. God also blessed me with almost 20 opportunities to provide the ministry needed for grieving families and the memorial services for their loved ones. I’m sure that if you surveyed all of the ordained principals in schools that are Community of Christ members you would find the same experiences.”
In a recent letter to priesthood, President Steve Veazey offered another perspective:
“Priesthood is a sacred gift from God, given through the responsibility and accountability of the church. Through the grace of God you have been gifted and called to ministry in a specific priesthood office. By focusing your ministry in areas of personal giftedness within your office, you will bring great blessings to those you serve.”