i spent an hour this morning meeting with a friend, Ray, who is heading up a synod task group looking at ordination in the uniting church. As part of the task group’s brief to look at whether the role of clergy is changing, Ray wanted to ask me about how clergy fit into what we do with alt worship. it took my head a while to get around the questions – i haven’t thought about ordination or the clergy as concepts or categories for a very long time…!
Initially the conversation was focussed on the involvement of ordained people in the things we do in this project [response: there are a number of ordained people who are involved in many different ways, but their ordination is incidental to their involvement]. After a while, though, the conversation moved into a really interesting space… we were talking about how one of the priestly roles in a worshipping community has been to ‘hold the line’ to ensure the community stays within the beliefs of the apostolic tradition. At its worst, that has been a form of control; at its best, it’s been a way of ensuring worship is a safe space for people. Ray was asking whether i thought there was a priestly role within alt worship and sacred spaces. I said no to begin with, but changed my thinking in the conversation… the focus in alt worship / sacred space is a little less on presenting a systematic theology for people, and more about creating a space for encountering and tangling with a sacred story in an open-ended way, so maybe the priestly role changes its focus too. It’s still about creating a safe space, but the focus isn’t on protecting people from heretical belief, rather it’s protecting people from heretical behaviour – from the danger of abuse within the context of curated worship and sacred space: manipulation, “power over”, exclusion… [and in that way the gifts of discernment and intuition become much more important for those who take the priestly role in this context]
[i don’t think that priestly role needs to be held by those who are ordained… or else, obviously, i wouldn’t be here!]
I’ve often talked about how alt worship is about playing, but it also involves knowing that we’re playing in the most holy of playgrounds. both Ray and I talked about the fear and trembling with which we come to plan worship… and how if we don’t take it seriously – if we don’t approach worship with that awe and wonder, and a sense of inadequacy for the responsibility – then the worship loses its heart and essence.