Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rio, Day 5

August 24, 2008

I’m reading the Soul of the Congregation by Thomas Edward Frank of Candler in preparation for teaching a section of Contextual Education (Parish Ministry) this semester. At one point he writes of the distinction many make between matters spiritual –the real stuff—on one hand and ‘administration’ on the other. Yesterday I met a priest who had left being rector of a large team in order to “try ministry at a different coal face.” He was worried that he was becoming too much of a manager and hoped to develop his own sense of priesthood apart from managerial tasks or identity. In no way am I critical of his choice which appeared to have great integrity. It occurs to me, however, that I am blessed by an understanding of priesthood that is not so centered on the person of the priest as on the role. If we are ordered in and for community then our ‘tasks’ are shaped for the tending, building, and directing of that community of faith. I ‘feel’ no less a priest in a staff meeting than in a hospital room, in the pulpit or at the altar. While I may prefer this or that task on this or that day, they are all of a piece and together the work of a priest and pastor. The separation of some tasks (‘administration’ or ‘management’) from others (‘Eucharist’ or ‘Pastoral Care’) can be a trap that keeps us focused on ourselves and not on the community we serve.

This morning I preached at Redentor aware that I would be among the people who befriended the teenagers on our first pilgrimage even as Alexander was one of the presenters about this year’s pilgrimage back at All Saints’. The parish is serves by a rector, Julio Pedro Seelig and his wife who is also a psychologist Livia Todt Seelig (whose father had been rector of the parish in the past). They could not have been more generous in their hospitality. There were about seventy five people present (and most stayed for an excellent lunch afterwards) for a liturgy marked by lively singing, a long sermon (twenty minutes plus translation at the rector’s request!) and minimal intercessory prayer, so little sense of the concerns of the community in the worship itself. I had been told it was an ‘aging parish’ abnd perhaps it is merely that people are stating to look younger to me but I believe I saw a smattering of couples under forty and a large corps of teenage acolytes. The bishop was present and was asked to absolve and bless us and bring greetings. The rector was very personable and brought out his copy of the All Saints’ history to show around. He clearly values our connection interestingly he was the first and only person so far to bring up Gene Robinson in conversation. He feels that Brazil is not ready for such a thing although I suspect that the notable silence from all other quarters suggests that it is less of an issue than he may believe. It also could be that everyone was being polite. (I also heard nothing about the war in Iraq although could pick up from newspapers and elsewhere a clear disgust verging on Anti-Bush feeling about it, so maybe the silence was simply begin polite to a visitor.)

I preached about the relational foundation for stewardship and evangelism. In conversation afterwards it became apparent that there is no good translation of stewardship in Portuguese with the choices pointing towards something like ‘administrator’ or ‘butler’. Given the chance to do it again I would talk about ‘the practice of generosity’, in fact that may be a better term and phrase for us as well.

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