As most of you who read this blog are aware, I’m a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. As perhaps slightly fewer of you know, our Provincial Assembly (complete with the election of our second-ever Archbishop) is going on this week. And as even fewer of you may know, I’m there too! St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful location with really pleasant grounds and facilities for us as we engage in formal worship, informal worship, fellowship, lectures, and business meetings. I’m not a delegate with voting responsibilities, I’m just here to hear the speakers and take in the worship and witness this brilliant glimpse of the greater ACNA beyond the confines of my home diocese in New England.
And while it is not the point of this blog to be particularly personal, a few pastoral lines of thought have sprung up this evening as I walked back to the dormitory from Choral Evensong. I’ve heard some marvelous speakers thus far – Eric Metaxas, Christopher West, Gary Haugen, and Andy Crowch to name a few – and enjoyed some lovely worship from an a Spanish-language Mass to traditional English Evensong just now, and it’s been a great experience all around.
But what I just realized, sweating from the humidity and heat of a Midwestern evening and a non-air-conditioned basilica under the full vestiture of cassock, surplice, tippet, and hood, was that for these few days, I am affirmed as a priest, but I don’t have to function as a priest. I’m not “on duty.” I’m among the sheep: only the Bishops are ministering the Sacrament this week.
It’s important for pastors of any denomination to have time off from giving ministry in order to rest and receive ministry. This is good, important, and necessary. But what frequently happens is that if we want a rest from pastoral responsibility, we have to hide our identity as a pastor: such as by attending a different church where nobody knows you as a pastor. And as most people will agree, attending a church where nobody knows you puts you through the social pressure of being a ‘first-time visitor’ which is lovely to receive when you’re looking for a church, but can be awkward if you’re just trying to blend in for the day.
What’s special about Provincial Assembly for we clergy is that we get both recognition as pastors/priests and a break from the responsibilities thereof. We all vested in our nice warm & cozy garments for the opening Eucharist yesterday and the Choral Evensong this evening, and many of us continue to wear clerical clothing throughout much of the week. We don’t have to hide our clerical identities and blend in. But we still get to mix with the crowds and enjoy the ministry of others for a change.
For sure, the schedule is busy, being pretty full of workshops, plenary sessions, and worship services. Some of it’s optional, of course. But it’s really wonderful to have this brief respite from the responsibility of ministry without having to hide or be a stranger among strangers. I thank God for the Catholic order in which we local pastors (priests and deacons) still have pastors over us (bishops), and I thank God that the bishops whom we have right now are men of God who care for their respective flocks and for us their under-shepherds.
I may well be physically tired by the end of this week, but I think I will be very refreshed spiritually. And that’s a wonderful gift.