Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Being a Priest in Public

I still feel pretty green when it comes to being a priest, but at least one part of this vocation has settled a little. I've blogged about wearing clericals before, and about how unsure I've been about when to wear them and when not to wear them. At this point I'm pretty settled in a routine of wearing clericals whenever I am formally in persona ecclesiae - whenever I am personally representing the church. In the liturgy, for sure, under my alb and chasuble; during pastoral care visits; at most church meetings. It turns out that I'm in clericals just about every day, except my day off, or if working from home.

Being in personal ecclesiae, it turns out, gives opportunity for some extremely varied reactions, and this came to a sharp point two nights ago. I was at a public event for the upcoming work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an opportunity for us to listen to the stories of the survivors of the residential school experience. I wore clericals, thinking that even if they might have hurtful associations for some, truthfulness and honesty is what this day is about. And I am a cleric in a church that has some responsibility for some shattered lives.

The public perception of "the church" was bundled up for me in two vastly different interactions. One man, who I've never met nor laid eyes on before, came directly up to me, smiling broadly, then shaking my hand vigorously, only to go on along his business. (He was white.) When Archbishop Fred Hiltz was speaking, another woman began yelling "Liars! Bullshit! Bullshit! I'll never forgive no priest! They're all liars!" She walked towards my furiously, giving my shoulder a good knock as she went by. (She was aboriginal.)*

Being in this kind of representative role for the church at this time - in persona ecclesiae - is not simply to be honoured and respected, as it once was. It also means bearing the burden of the sins of the church in very personal ways. And it is, whether I choose it to be this way or not, part of the vocation of personal representation of the church.

*Surely things are more complex than this, as there are many aboriginal Christians who are happy with the church, and also many white people who are very unhappy. But that this happened this way, at this particular event, is no coincidence.

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Blogger Father Nathan said...

Hey Father,

I'm not exactly sure how through the google, wikipedia, myspace loop that I stumbled across your page but I'm glad I did.

I've been ordained for three years now and I am a member of an Old Catholic jurisdiction.

Even before my ordination I was wearing my clerical uniform in public in the American south and so you can imagine the issues that came from that! People are instantly drawn to the scandals. It doesn't help that we wear Roman styled collars either.

I get jeers and complaints. I've had people spit on me, yell at me, cuss me out at blockbuster. I've had people follow me in my car just to flick me off. I've had girls try and seduce me just for the challenge of it all. And being that I have a little girl nothing breaks my heart more then to see the stares and hear the whispers (and sometimes more vocal complaints) when people see a priest walking around holding a child or worse changing her diaper...

But one day I was walking down the street minding my own business, talking to a friend and a man was running towards the docks and happened to turn around and see me. The man fell to his knees tears streaming down his face and begging me to give him absolution, "FATHER PLEASE!" he screamed.

I asked him what he had done and he looked up at me through blood shot eyes and said, "My son drowned at sea a year ago and I just can't take it anymore... I was heading to go kill myself tonight, just this moment but then I saw you."

No amount of hatred or glares or opinions or even my daughter having to hear people call her father a pedophile could change my mind on the fact that its worth it! Image for a moment if I had been dressed as a civilian that day?

So remember that when you walk about sometimes you are "in persona ecclesiae" but when you put on your priestly attire you are no longer your own because as priest we are always, "in persona christi" and as Christ could never hide who he was, we should never hide who we are.

May God bless you on your journey!

Rev. Fr. Nathan Monk

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 1:09:00 PM  

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