The priesthood of all believers

I am fascinated by the multitude of ways that the independent sacramental movement has dealt with the priesthood of all believers.  Of course, some indie churches look fairly mainstream in this regard, but I am much more interested in the experimenters.

A number of groups (e.g., the Holy Order of MANS, the Independent Church of Australia, and one branch of the Mariavite Church) have allowed or even encouraged some form of lay celebration of the eucharist.  Sometimes a different rite is used to mark the fact that the celebrant is not ordained.  For instance, the lay celebrant of Holy Order of MANS Missionary Communion implores Christ to effect the transmutation, as a priest is not present.  (If anyone speaks Polish and would be interested in translating the Mariavite “People’s Mass,” please let me know.)

In yet other groups, the distinction between lay and ordained dissolves, with most members sharing, to some extent, in the sacrament of holy orders.  While a high percentage of membership in orders has long been the case in many independent groups, it is only recently that some folks have begun articulating a positive theology of this “ordained priesthood of all believers.”  A good example of such a community is The Young Rite (www.lcc.cc) located mostly in Europe.  Their website states:

In contrast to the traditional (catholic) way, we do not make a distinction between sanctuary and congregation.  In effect, this means that all present at a service are regarded as clergy who actively participate in its celebration.  As all are seen as clergy, all are also free to recieve ordinations up to and including the priesthood, if they so desire…

While the Guild of the Master Jesus did not consecrate all its members as ministrants, they did hold that “the congregation should be as well instructed as the priesthood, for upon their trained and intelligent co-operation, a great deal depends.” (Carr and Fielding, The Story of Dion Fortune, 254)  All members were taught the same methods of prayer, meditation, and visualization, as utlilized by the ministrants of the Guild, and were expected to cooperate inwardly with the liturgy.

In effect, I think many in the independent movement are reaching toward an almost Quaker understanding of the priesthood of all believers – the abolition of the laity:

When early Friends affirmed the priesthood of all believers, it was seen as the abolition of the clergy; in fact it is an abolition of the laity.  All members are part of the clergy, and have the clergy’s responsibility… (British Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, Quaker Faith and Practice, 11.01, 1994)

In small communities with volunteer clergy, sharing the clerical responsibilities as widely as possibile makes sense, both theologically and practically.

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One Response to “The priesthood of all believers”

  1. The Liberal Rite Says:

    It is also a response to the fact that there are as many different means of priesthood as there are people, and that spiritual growth as the natural consequence of belonging to a community is going to result in many realising that their vocation is worthy of formal recognition by that community. Only where priesthood is seen as a religious, rather than a spiritual aspiration, or where it is strictly delineated in terms of role and responsibilities so as to exclude certain individuals and callings can it be restricted. The alternative – an open priesthood – recognises the kingdom of God coming to fruition in each one who nurtures it within.

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