The priesthood of all is a commisioning
It's very difficult to speak about professional ministry with a community that believes in the priesthood (and prophethood) of all members. We do not have a "high" or sacremental theology of ministry. We say that everything a minister can do, a lay person could do too. So why do we need ministers?
In British Unitarianism we do not even have the rite of ordination, which in other traditions, and other branches of the Unitarian family, provides a clearer picture of who is a minister and who is not. And as a small declining denomination we have relied increasingly on various forms of lay leadership. Today the majority of our congregations do not have ministers.
So what is a Minister is everyone ministers (verb)? Do we indeed really need Ministers?
If we believe in the priesthood of all, then why can't we all do the ministry of preaching, pastoring, organising?
But here's the point for me: the idea of a priesthood of all members is not a statement of the way things are by some sort of fiat or miracle. Hey presto: you walked through the doors of a church, and now you're a priest! Now you can do all the ministry you need to. Rather the idea of the priesthood of all is a challenge, a commisioning, something to aspire to.
Becoming a Unitarian does not make you a priest, already capable of ministering. Becoming a Unitarian means you are challenged to the best of your ability to develop your gifts in service to the congregation and the world. Becoming a Unitarian means you are challenged to go deeper into your spiritual life, to pray more deeply; becoming a Unitarian means you are challenged to learn more about Unitarianism and the spiritual traditions of the world; becoming a Unitarian means you are challenged to become more compassionate; becoming a Unitarian means you are challenged to discern where your gifts lie: in caring, organising, leading, supporting, cooking, preaching, praying, loving, singing, prophet-ing - and then to offer those gifts.
But how will you be able to learn all these things? How will you be guided into your priestly vocation? How about by someone who's full-time job it is to guide, teach, and pastor you in this way? We call that person a Minister.
The Minister is the spiritual resource for this learning and growing. The Minister's job is to remind the community of its deepest values, to teach and guide the community, to give people the fullest and widest education to become the priests they are called to be.
And if someone in the congregation has the gifts in the appropriate areas of ministry then they should consider putting themselves forward to be a full time professional Minister too.
The Minister is not the only one with a vocation. The Minister is not the only priest. But the Minister's vocation is to help all others to find their vocation. Without a Minister our spiritual searching is likely to get stuck and our vocation will fail to develop to the extent which it could. There are things to be learnt on the spiritual path. There are things to be learnt about how to care for people. There are things to be learnt about how best to organise a community. The source and resource for our learning is a Minister who is spiritually grounded and deeply knowledgable about such things.