While I don’t believe that Free Church ministers (including Unitarian Universalists and United Church Christians) attain an ontological state through their ordination that fundamentally distinguishes them from the laity — made priests forever — neither do I really feel “that Pastor Jones is Mr. Jones on the train between his calls” as the old chestnut goes. The truth is somewhere else.
The ordained ministry derives its authority from its character and its work, but there’s something about the ministry that doesn’t rub off, even if you’re not serving a church or engaged in an institutional ministry. Even ministers who lay down their ordination and never return to the work aren’t quite laypersons, but don’t ask me to make a rational argument about how or why. Now, how do we regard ministers who through happenstance — often geographic or for family reasons — don’t practice a regularly constituted, accountable ministry? Poorly comes to mind, at least in the Unitarian Universalist Association. The working attitude is that if you don’t work in a conventional ministry at least half time until retirement, you begin to drift away and eventually vanish, ecclesiastically speaking. There’s a bad moral in that, and a terrible waste of experience and fellowship.
In parliamentary systems, governments often have “ministers without portfolio” — those without specific responsibilities or charge. I’ve sometimes waggishly described myself as a “minister without portfolio” and this blog and other service is a partial effort to maintain some kind of work — an irregular, unaccountable, part-time and wholly unpaid ministry — that keeps me in the loop.
Which begs the question? Who ministers to those others “without portfolio”? Do we have something in common that we can identify that brings us together? Gifts we can share? Opportunities to maintain our skills as we wait for an opportunity to serve in the way that our training and ordination implies?
Are you in this situation? What would you have done?