Commemorating George Herbert (1593-1633) and his work in Fugglestone St. Peter with Bremerton hit a strong chord for me as I have been contemplating the modern priesthood and its demands.
Love his work, or not, George Herbert is probably the best known pastoral theologian among Anglican/Episcopal clergy. He left academia for the life and work of a small parish and served for only three years. I have no doubt that his reputation is significantly enhanced by his short tenure, and having worn himself out in ministry, his early death at the age of 40. If he had lived to serve a few more years in Fugglestone he might not be so well remembered, as we all know that the real issues in parish work do not erupt until year 4, 5, 6, etc. After those years he might have been called all sorts of names by those associated with his ministry. Ok. I kid. I kid.
In all seriousness, what Herbert represents is a type of pastoral identity that is counter-cultural in our day. Clergy are beset by the temptation to be “corporate” and “professionals” rather than pastors. I believe that our push for the “professionalization” of the clergy has actually weakened our ability to serve as priests. We wanted to be treated like the physicians, lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and professors in our cities and towns, and even though we have less social capital today, we are treated like them. We put our degrees on our walls showing we have the proper credentials. Those who come to us for ministry inquire about our “vision” and “mission” statements so that we can adequately discover our market and how to operate within it for “success” and to determine whether or not we are “visionary” enough for them to join the work. The National Church asks us about our “liturgical style”, and how we “handle conflict”, “budget management”, or our experience in “leading through change”. TPTB have never asked me about my prayer life, spiritual disciplines, how much time I spend in Holy Scripture and Christian reading. I cannot remember the last time anyone in my “chain of command” asked about visiting the sick in hospital or pastoral care. Nor has anyone inquired after my practice of being “out and about” in the community I serve.
George Herbert represents the model of the “Country Parson”. He literally wrote the book on it. And while it does not all translate to our context today, it is a model for a pastoral life less concerned with the “operations” of parish, but consumed with a deep love of Christ, place, and people. The life of the “Country Parson”, and the “City Pastor”, is to be that life of serious devotion to Christ through prayer, discipline, study, and deep concern for the spiritual and physical needs of the members of his parish.
Clergy, we need to be less administrators and better priests and pastors. We need to log of the network and log more time “on our knees”, and to get out of the office and into the “Office”.