Tuesday, October 02, 2007


If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end — as in fact many of them do — by never saying anything worth hearing. — Dorothy Sayers, “The Triumph of Easter”

I don't know who the folks are at the Presbyterian Church (USA) who choose our daily quotes. But I am planning to blog a bunch of them in the coming weeks... they are quite wonderful.

I have to confess that I know Dorothy Sayers primarily from her Lord Peter Wimsey novels which were turned into smart, visually scrumptious television dramas, shown on the PBS series "Mystery." (And more compelling, by far, than the persnickety Wimsey was his "husky-voiced" love interest, Harriet Vane.)

But I see from the Wiki article that Sayers' major accomplishment in her own mind was a translation of the Divine Comedy. And judging by the quote above, she had more than a little experience with church.

Years ago I was in conversation with a Presbyterian minister who acted as a mentor to me. We would have lunch every so often, and as we did, we would talk about theology... my understanding of ordination, of church, of salvation, etc. One time, over lunch in a whole foods restaurant, she looked at me with the kind of bemused look one gives a child and said, "You do realize you are more free as an unordained person than as an ordained one, don't you?" As ordination was the goal I was pursuing with laser-like focus, I was startled by this comment. "No, I don't," I said, a little annoyed.

"You can't say everything you want to say as a minister. You can't push people as hard as you want to, to bring about a change of heart."

"But aren't ministers supposed to preach the gospel?" (I believe I was actually sputtering.) "Aren't they supposed to be prophets?"

She thought a moment and replied, "They are treading the thin line between prophet and pastor. They neglect either one at their peril."

I think Sayers is talking about those who have turned their backs on the prophetic role. And, really, with job security on the line, the forces pulling ministers of the gospel in this direction are strong. But I think of people I know only in the blogosphere... MadPriest! Elizabeth Kaeton! Mother Laura! And I know it can be done. It isn't easy, but it can be done.


Pastor Peters said...

thanks mags. i like this lots.

Heather W. Reichgott said...

good stuff!

imho the prophet/pastor thing is really a matter of rhetoric, delivery etc. if i'm giving people a message of comfort and hope (Jesus loves you) that still implies a serious challenge (look what Jesus' loved ones are meant to be and do!) if i'm challenging us to mission, or if i'm naming sin in the world, i've got to do it in a way that people can actually hear--haranguing people from the pulpit doesn't motivate them to act on the message in the slightest, in my experience.

MadPriest said...

The pastoral role validates and informs the prophetic role. Unless you are prepared to spend most of your time visiting people in their homes, sitting with the dying etc. and listening to people, your prophetic voice will be nothing but your own voice and will be just yourself moaning about your own concerns. Visiting is not regarded as a primary concern by so many priests nowadays and this may account for the lack of ordinary prophesy at parish level and beyond.

Magdalene6127 said...

Madpriest, you are on to something very powerful there. Heather, too. And thanks P. Peters. Thanks all.

Mother Laura said...

Oh, Mags, thank you...it is such a lonely road sometimes and this affirmation came just when I needed it. (((you)))

LittleMary said...

wow. yeah. tell me about it. i have been thinking a lot about this in regards to dating these days. very good stuff.

Diane said...

I really like what MadPriest says...the prophecy has to fit the people, just as the pastoring does, and to do that you have to KNOW them.