Saturday, January 14, 2012

I am not a vicar

The previous post on what ministers should wear during a protest led to a conversation about what ministers should wear in any case, which also leads to the question of what a Unitarian minister is in any case.

Sometimes people call me a vicar, usually non-churched friends while we're sitting in a pub. I'm not exactly offended by this, the worst thing to do is judge non-churched folks at using the wrong terms, giving the impression that religious people are hyper-sensitive and easily offended so you need to walk on eggshells around them. But nevertheless I would say, no, I'm not a vicar.

The basic way of explaining this is to say vicar comes from "vicarious" - doing something for someone else, and I don't do anything for anyone else. I don't do your religion for you, you have to do it for yourself.

But I suppose the basic reason why I don't wear a clerical collar is because I'm not a vicar, this is also the reason I do not use the title "reverend." My function may seem similar, but I think if we're consistent with our theology we have to admit that something quite different is going on in Unitarianism.

We have more in common with the Quakers (and even in some senses the Baptists) than the Church of England. We do not have an ordained order of clergy with symbolic function. We may in fact have more in common with certain types of American Quakers who have ministers and with Reform Rabbis (although I don't really have enough knowledge of either movement to back that up).

As much as I may have very friendly relations with my neighbouring Anglican church and clergy (and I do) I do have to affirm that we are not the same, and that I am committed to doing religion in a quite different way. Unitarianism belongs not to Protestantism but to the radical reformation and part of what that means is a strong commitment to equality, to the priesthood of all.

The idea of a "holy person" who does religion on your behalf, who effectively is holy so you don't have to be is a bad idea. The practice of a lot of Christian denominations, and the general approach to religion in this culture around "vicars" encourages this thinking. So "vicars" are praying, not swearing, not drinking, not having sex on our behalf.

Yet this way of thinking is condemned by all the great spiritual teachers: Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad constantly tried to turn attention away from themselves towards their teaching (why do you think there's a taboo in Islam against depicting the prophet Mohammad? Because Mohammad didn't want people to start worshipping him, turning their attention away from their own relationship with God).

This approach disempowers the laity. It cam reduce your membership of a spiritual community to passive pew-sitting.

A Unitarian minister is, theologically, more of a teacher than a priest. A Unitarian minister's job is to provide guidance in helping people go deeper in their faith journey and their own ministry. Because even though we each do have our own direct relationship with the Holy and our own ministry to give, we still need guidance, resources, knowledge to help us, and the minister provides this. A Unitarian minister is different, only in the sense of their education, training and knowledge of spiritual resources, which enables them to empower others.

In short I believe giving the impression that Unitarian ministers are "basically vicars" gives the wrong impression of the type of religion Unitarianism is. Unitarian ministers are not vicars.


Blogger Bill Baar said...

Coat and Tie please... no roman collars.

1:22 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

Anglican terminology is particularly opaque and confusing in this area ;how many in the pews of the average parish church could explain the difference between 'vicar','rector',curate' 'priest in charge','canon';the NT designations of elder,presbyter,and deacon are similarly a muddle to many.I've always thought that the only possible choices are 'minister' or 'pastor'- it's interesting that the C of E has dispensed with the title of 'Reader' recently replacing it with 'Licensed Lay Minister'(LLM), the abbreviation of which creates the confusion with a Master's Degree in Law !The new designation of hospital chaplains is SCM - which creates a possibly comical confusion with midwives!

3:31 pm  
Anonymous Angela @ said...

Maybe Unitarian ministers are guides, in the sense of the person who has at least has mapreading skills even if the terrain is unfamiliar.

Or possibly an expert. In the sense that they have read a page ahead in a manual (with luck, a manual for something vaguely resembling the situation at hand).

And, Unitarian ministers know and Unitarian laity know that none of us exactly know what we're doing.

I guess that's nothing like vicars?

7:20 pm  
Anonymous Don Adams said...

Hi. To recap, you stated: " ... vicar comes from "vicarious" - doing something for someone else, and I don't do anything for anyone else. I don't do your religion for you, you have to do it for yourself."

As a clergy person, we are often called to do for others who can't do for themselves... like, helping people in homeless shelters & low income facilities to get food and clothing. Our church provides backpacks with toiletries, snacks, blankets, hats, gloves, socks, etc., to the area homeless... we also pray for and minister to others who may have lost faith or have never known faith... so in this sense, we DO do for others who can't do for themselves... I don't get too hung up on titles; I've been called pastor, Rev. and vicar... whatever title someone decides to use is fine with me... peace.

6:13 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Don - we may indeed do something for those who need it - but is this exclusively the role of the clergy?

Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless IS THE WORK OF THE WHOLE CHURCH. The Minister should lead the congregation in considering how they are called to do these acts as individuals and as a community.

If the vicar is doing this work, and the laity are not, then they are indeed being vicarious, but I would suggest my tradition (and Jesus) tells me this is not good enough.

6:10 pm  

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