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Book: Priests in a People’s Church
Authors: George Guiver, Peter Allan, Barbara June, Benjamin Gordon-Taylor, John Gribben, Nicholas and Christine Henshall, Charles Pickstone, Margaret Selby
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Holy Trinity Church, Maryliborn Road, London, pp. 148

Excerpt from Introduction:

In asking the question, “What is a priest?” we meet a problem: it is impossible to talk about priesthood in isolation. We ask, What is a wombat or an edible dormouse?, but not, What is a priest? The priest is no independent species — the ‘laity’ are part of the picture of what the priest is, and the priest is part of the picture of what the laity are. We can see the oddity of it by comparing with ballroom dancing: you can’t sit down and discuss what a partner is. “These are the characteristics of a partner,” we would be saying, “and so-and-so has been called to be a dancing-partner, and will go to dancing school t pursue individual research on what it is to be a partner.” To understand the word ‘partner’ you need to dance with your partners, and any theorizing will be about dancing. There are limitations to putting the notion ‘priest’ under the microscope — in the life of the gospel it is like ‘partner’ in dancing.

A contemporary understanding of priesthood within the Church can only be discovered in the context of the whole people of God. Today we find it difficult to see what in the priestly role distinguishes it from any other kind of leadership. Many reduce it to simple that — the priest as the leader and chief administrator/co-ordinator of the Christian community.

Excerpt from Book:

Priesthood in community is something to be accepted and unwrapped, so to say, rather than something to be achieved, done or performed. Moreover, all vows are gifts in both senses of that word. They are birthday presents and also hidden talents; they have to be unwrapped but also developed and employed.

The hymn specifies that the gifts are three:

‘Tis the gift to be simple,
‘Tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to be come down where we ought to be

The gift to be simple accords the vow of poverty in one way, with chastity in another, and with obedience in a third way. . . .Poverty is the gift of the simple in the sense that it means a simple and entire dependence on Christ — ‘as having nothing and yet possessing all things.’ . . .

The gift to be free pertains to all three vows in the same kind of way. Poverty can enable absolute positive freedom from every kind of obsessive selfish possessiveness or ownership. . .

Chastity too is the ‘gift to be free.,’ the paradox of free love pushed to its limits. Even more paradoxically, obedience is the vow of freedom. To obey is a free response of love. The gift to be free is about choice and the freedom to choose in love. It is a risky and rough-edged gift. There is nothing smooth or automatic about it. For the priest there is a gritty deposit of paradox that cannot be sieved out. The God who asks for obedience is the one ‘whose service is perfect freedom’; the one whom John Donne addresses with the claim, ‘I except thou enthral me, never can be free.’ A German Lutheran Sister speaks with disarming mispronunciation of the three wows. Obedience – WOW!

Table of Contents:

Part One: Perceptions

1. The priest and the mystery: a case of identity
2. Screen idol
3. The priest in the media age
4. A word from one of the Laos

Part Two: The Priest in Relationship

5. Simple gifts: priesthood in a praying community
6. Priest and victim
7. Marriage, priesthood and ministry: four vignettes
8. The priest, sex and society
9. Detachment in priesthood and community
10. The priest as focus