Priesthood – abstract
This page of my website – on priesthood – reflects on my own experience and practice extending over more than half a century. The detail of this you can find in the “About Me” section of this website, together with a personalised 75 year Timeline. While drawing on this experience, I want now to pass beyond my own story to a deeper analysis of what priesthood means. Over 50 years huge changes have taken place in its ‘shape’.
Since I was ordained in 1961 the number of stipendiary priests in the Church of England has halved: then we were all male and trained full-time in residential theological colleges; now nearly half of our number is female. More recently women have also been admitted to the episcopate in the Church of England. Many priests now train part-time on non-residential courses, are drawn from other careers or serve on a financially self-supporting basis.
As for myself: I have more recently become a Quaker – a member of the Religious Society of Friends. This didn’t require me to renounce my Anglicanism or my ordination – so I might be said to be “in dual membership”, nor, I find, am I alone in this. Quakers have a different model of priesthood, sometimes described as the priesthood of all believers. My progression to this latest step has been a gradual one and represents more accurately my considered experience and current theological understandings.
I plead that priesthood can no longer be defined simply by ecclesiastical function: rather priesthood is embedded in the life of the world and in the society of which it is – or should be – a part (and not from which it is apart!). I believe that priesthood both ordained and that of all members have much to offer to, and to learn from each other. If I cease to be a Vicar (and so part of the church’s hierarchy) do I also cease to be a priest? If we are all priests (a more mutual or democratic model) how do we practice this ministry with one another and out in the world?
Having previously written A Priesthood for the Twenty-First Century (see the Publications page) more recently I gained the support of the elders of my Quaker meeting to explore our understandings of priesthood. I began by leading a couple of workshops and a quiet day. I also conducted a number of personal interviews. I was then favoured with an Eva Koch Scholarship to study at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Centre. This concluded with a presentation of my research to date – see the video and article from The Friend, below (both reproduced here by permission of Woodbrooke and the Editor respectively). A more extended essay appears in Quaker Quarterly (August 2018).
I hope you will enjoy following this part of my life’s journey with me and that you will also join me in considering the challenges that our experiences raise for the future of the wider priesthood in the twenty-first century. I believe that this will be of relevance not only for the churches themselves and for their members but also, perhaps surprisingly, for society at large.
More remains to be done so I will positively welcome any feedback you can give through the Contact page. The debate continues, drawing on a sharing of experience, reflections and opinions. Priesthood will continue of course but its varied expressions will go on changing as they always have done.