Archive for July, 2011

Pay to Pray

Friday, July 29th, 2011

A priest friend of mine recently complained about her inability to locate a new spiritual director–the former director having moved away. She said that not only were such counsellors hard to find; they also charge money for their services.

In not-so-distant times, fee-based spiritual direction would have been unheard of. It would be like a parish priest asking for money from sick people after every visit. But with the advent of academic study of this topic, and directors having to come up with tuition funds to get their training, professionalization was perhaps inevitable.

At that time, I questioned that spiritual direction could be “taught” and was told that students needed the credit and seminaries need the funds. I remain unconvinced by the commoditization of this ministry. I have never paid for direction nor charged for it. It’s not therapy. If people want to give gifts to the directors’ parishes or charities (as I do), that is fine–and a different moral and spiritual matter.

There is a huge need today for guidance of the soul, and those who can offer this are rare and cherished. But putting money into the mix is likely to be more corrupting than encouraging. Imagine what Jesus would do. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Prophet in the Congregation

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

I have been happy to recommend to all and sundry a new book by an Incarnation parishioner and Vestry member. Gretchen Morgenson’s Reckless Endangerment provides many insights into the current financial crisis. Written with Josh Rosner, it is also an exciting read. The book has recently topped the business bestseller charts in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

I have also often felt that while Gretchen’s journalism deals with the most secular of topics–money and greed, it also conveys a high moral purpose. I would say that she is in the tradition of the biblical prophets. To say that she is on a mission is to use the right word. —J. Douglas Ousley


Priest-in-Charge

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

The Dean of the National Cathedral has recently announced his intention to leave Washington and return to Trinity Church Boston, where he was rector for 12 years; the Dean’s new position will be, “priest-in-charge.” The Rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York has recently announced his intention to retire in January, 2012; his second-in-command will then become “priest-in-charge” of the parish.

In both cases, the priest-in-charge has the right eventually to be appointed (or re-appointed) rector–a privilege denied to “interim rectors” and other clergy who guide parishes in transition. Yet the fact that this title has emerged as a new name for clergy leaders may be a sign of the pressures congregational leaders now face.

Not long ago, there were rectors and deans, and curates and canons, and that was it. (I have held all of these titles except dean, though I was once an “interim dean.”) Now diverse leadership titles proliferate, perhaps to help clergy and parish cope with the difficulties of church management in our time. —J. Douglas Ousley


Behind the Times, Yet Again

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

When I was in England, news reached our group of New York clergy that gay marriage had become legal in our state. As there was no public opposition to this legislation in the Diocese of New York, I assume that our distant cheers were joined by many more state-side.

The Bishop of New York has since endorsed blessing of such marriages in church. While this is a somewhat daring move, dependent on a very favorable interpretation of Anglican Communion agreements and Episcopal Church canon law, blessings will still disappoint many. Blessings of unions have, after all, been performed in this diocese at least since 1970. It seems too bad that having been so far ahead of our society in affirming homosexual relationships, we now find ourselves falling behind a truly progressive spirit of our age. —J. Douglas Ousley