web analytics

Ordination devaluation?

ordinationA question caught my eye on another site. People have been debating for days there whether women can be ordained. In one comment my blogging Kiwi colleague, Peter Carrell asked “do you think that by being ordained we have unwittingly demeaned lay brothers in ministry?” Go to his site if you want to join in on the women’s ordination discussion. Rather than derailing that discussion, I want to expand my answer, “Yes!“, here, and think about some ways that there can be ordination devaluation.

If a relatively small diocese has ordinations of 30 or so at a time, ordination is in danger of devaluing. Both the lay and the ordained are being devalued. If all/many/most persons who serve or lead are ordained, there is ordination devaluation.

If a lay person dresses in what many perceive as the vesture of the ordained (in some places that is an alb), stands “up the front”, and usurps priestly roles in a service, both the lay and the ordained are being devalued. It is the right of laity “in the pews” to be able to sense they are fully and equally participating in a service.

When we use “participants” in a service to mean the clergy, ordination devalues. When calling the presider the “celebrant” weakens the understanding that all present are celebrating, ordination devalues.

If we do not thoroughly train and rigorously form clergy, enabling ongoing study and formation, we devalue ordination. If postulancy for ordination is so brief that those present at an ordination do not even know who “those others” are that they are ordaining, we devalue ordination.

When ordination is seen as solely the bishop’s rite, or the bishop’s right, ordination devalues. When bishop’s depart from what we have all together agreed will be the means of ordination, ordination devalues.

If people look at a layperson with quality theological education and superb pastoral formation, wondering why they are not ordained, ordination devalues.

If we think that by “lowering the bar” for ordination there will be more younger people applying for ordination, then we misunderstand the way young people work, their desire to be challenged, and their attraction to demanding adventure. There is ordination devaluation.

If only men can be ordained, but lay women can take on some leadership roles, and then we widen the requirement for ordination (for example from celibates, to married male deacons), ordination can devalue.

If every visible lay ministry needs a bishop’s licence, so that ministry is seen as sourced in the bishop and licensing rather than Christ and baptism, there is ordination devaluation. If bishops license in the middle of the ordination prayer, there is ordination devaluation.

If being a deacon is merely being an apprentice priest, ordination devalues. If many or most who were understood as called specifically to being deacon go on later to be priest, ordination devalues. If we use “hierarchy” to mean “pyramid”, with the “top” being the bishop, ordination devalues. If there is a career path, and the top is archbishop, ordination devalues. If the goal is to collect as many sacraments as possible: baptism, confirmation, marriage, deaconing, priesting,… there is ordination devaluation.

This is no minor issue. Ordination devaluation jeopardises the church’s ministry and mission.

Or at least that’s what I think. And, of course, I could be wrong…

If you appreciated this post,
sign up for the RSS feed
like the Liturgy Facebook page and/or
follow on twitter.

Similar Posts:

21 thoughts on “Ordination devaluation?”

  1. Mund Cargill Thompson

    Hi Bosco
    I agree with pretty much all you have said apart from your comment about albs. As per the book of Revelation the alb is the vestment of the ordinary Christian. Go to some African independent churches and you will find every Christian donning one as they come into church. In the catholic tradition you can find servers as young as 5 or 6 wearing an alb when they are on duty. There can be something quite powerful about a lay member of the congregation being robed one Sunday when they are on duty (whether as a server or assisting leading the mass) and the next Sunday disapearing into the congregation. Laity are only diminished if it is the same super lay person uo front every week.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mund. We are totally on the same page here, Mund. I regularly stress the alb is the vesture of the baptised. In such communities (as you describe) the confusion does not arise. But I assure you there are places where “many perceive the alb as the vesture of the ordained”, and where a lay person exercises roles that you and I would understand as being the vocation and ministry of the ordained. In such places, IMO, both the ordained and the layity are being devalued. Blessings.

    1. Thanks, Hugh. I’m pleased the alb point is clearer. I’m interested in your connection of the link you give with my post? I identify with a lot of what the post is saying – especially about being honest about our real, current situation, so that we can actually begin to respond to it. Advent blessings.

  2. Thomas Dummermuth

    Thanks for your inspiring, challenging post. Coming from the reformed tradition, I found myself hand cringing at the terms clergy and laity, even though I see myself as someone who has a high view on ordination. Maybe you can help me with something I never quite understood in seminary: when, how, and why in the history of the church was the ordination to a “priestly role” (in the sense of ἱερεύς, not πρεσβύτερος) (re)introduced?

    1. Thomas (love the “hand cringing”!), I have had exceptionally full days – and this requires a bit of research. Off the top of my head, sacerdos grew as a metaphor for bishop into the third century, and extended to presbyter into the sixth century, I guess as, more and more, Old Testament models were applied into this New Testament context. Blessings.

  3. God’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom, where the least shall be the greatest and the greatest shall be the least. The church continually needs to remind itself of this in all areas, since in almost each generation and every denomination it slides into a hierarchical pyramid. When was the last time the person who cleans the toilets in your church was honoured and appreciated?

    1. Yes, Claudia. I wince when “hierarchy” is used, both in non-church but also in church contexts, to mean pyramid. Because I’m hearing the Greek: “Holy Rule”. And the holy Christian rule, as you suggest, is more the toilet-cleaning type. Blessings.

  4. Excellent post, Bosco, but I’m afraid I don’t follow this paragraph:

    “If only women can be ordained, but lay women can take on some leadership roles, and then we widen the requirement for ordination (for example from celibates, to married male deacons), ordination can devalue.”

    Off-topic: Since Geraldine Granger didn’t get picked as the new ABC, have you all considered her for the upcoming primatial vacancy in your province?

    1. Paul, many RC dioceses were reluctant to introduce married male deacons for the very reason of my poorly worded paragraph. As the number of RC priests lessened, lay men and women were taking on leadership roles appropriately. With the RC extension of ordination to married men, they more naturally took on roles that had not previously gender specific.

      I had not considered promoting Mother Geraldine as a candidate for the primacy here because of the particular process that leads to this appointment. I will consult with the appropriate canon lawyers.


      1. Thank you. I think your point will be clearer if you change the opening phrase to “If only men can be ordained.”

        1. Thanks, Paul! I have changed that now. As you see in my comment to Jesse (above) – my excuse for the nonsense I had there previously is a full and tiring (great) week. Advent blessings.

  5. ‘If a lay person dresses in what many perceive as the vesture of the ordained’…

    oh dear, in good old British humour fashion that reminds me of being told me years ago:
    ‘man who runs around being theatrical in an embroidered dress in one context is a pervert, in another an aspiring saint…’

    Joking aside, I do wonder why Christianity has been so plagued by people who don’t want to follow Jesus’ actual instructions, yet will home-in on a small piece of say Leviticus or revere the writings of Saint Paul- often out of context?

    Living here in the US Bible Belt I have often felt like the Ancient Mariner, I know this book reasonably well, and the Bible can be quite the albatross without Jesus:

    ‘He prayeth best, who loveth best
    All things both great and small;
    For the dear God who loveth us,
    He made and loveth all.’


    ‘he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.’

    What does it all mean Bosco?


    And off at a tangent, I hope one of your Christmas posts is about Christchurch recovery, are there still people homeless as another Christmas comes and goes?

    Has the land settled?

    1. I don’t know why Christians major on minors, Tracy. And I’m sure there are people who think I do.

      We have not felt a significant quake for a significant time. Buildings in the central city are still being brought down. Reviews are highlighting major issues in planning (both of the buildings, and of the rescuing). Many people are still in very difficult situations. And there are tensions about the future directions. There are also new things springing up: cinemas, cafes, library, first completed new buildings,…


  6. This is all excellent, Bosco. Thanks.

    The bit about “albs” (which seems to have excited everyone) puts me in mind of a sage comment I encountered some years ago: “To make the laity feel that the only way to participate actively in the liturgy is to take over the roles of the ordained is the worst form of clericalism.”

    Just yesterday I had to take a student gently to task for suggesting that the 16th- and 17th-century Anglican liturgies “predate the introduction of ‘active lay participation'”. That statement would likely rile our Reformers! In many ways, those rites are the most demanding of active lay participation: you’re warned a week in advance to examine your conscience and make peace with anyone whom you have wronged; you give notice of your intent to communicate a day in advance; and the liturgy cannot take place at all without a quorum of laity. The laity are involved through changes of posture, through verbal responses, through singing, through the offering of their monetary substance. The journey through the liturgy involves a demanding commitment of concentration as the communicants all together embark on on an interior pilgrimage of ascent in heart and mind to the heavenly Holy of Holies. And in the 1552-1662 liturgies, the “anamnesis” commanded by Our Lord is deliberately linked to each communicant’s reception of the sacrament (“Take and eat this in remembrance…”).

    That’s what I call “active participation”!

  7. ‘I don’t know why Christians major on minors, Tracy. And I’m sure there are people who think I do.’

    Hardly Bosco- you’re one of the best clerics I have known to grasp the whole picture, especially where theodicy is concerned.


    Thinking about all the people who undertake another Christmas missing loved ones or enduring discomfort.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, “Rector Chick”. It is our custom in this community to use our ordinary name (there are a couple of exceptions for particular reasons). Great question! I suppose not doing these things will help to not devalue (and I’m not just writing about devaluing ordained ministry, I’m also talking about devaluing lay ministry). But I think you are challenging to have another post… Advent blessings.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.