Mary Beth at Rev Gal Blog Pals writes, “I’ve just finished a great little book by L. William Countryman called Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All.
“Countryman suggests that not only do all Christians have a ministry, but all of us have a priesthood. The “priesthood of all believers” comes to mind, and he takes that farther to suggest that humanity shares a ‘universal human priesthood’. Every human has the capacity to encounter and then pass on something of transcendent significance.
“For today, think back over your life, and share about five (or more) who have been priests in your life (or ministers, pastors, whatever language is comfortable for you). In sharing, know that names are not necessary.”
When I was in seminary, Countryman’s little book had just been published. It was a “must read” for all the would-be priests at my seminary. I picked it up shortly after I began seminary fourteen years ago and have kept it close by my desk ever since. It’s a book I often return to–both when I find my own priesthood challenged by the world in which I serve and when I encounter priests in the world around me.
At one point, Countryman talks about “the priestly character of all human existence.” Hmm. Those we encounter drawing out the holy in us or maybe calling us back to that holy deep within. A probing question. A raised eyebrow. A flash of recognition. A seeing deep inside to the part of God in me lying hidden amidst the detritus of my life. There are so many that play or have played that role in my life. But today I’m remember three who were priest to me when I most needed that.
The one who calls himself “Punk Priest” and who called me to ministry first on the streets of San Francisco and now on the streets of Albuquerque. “I have a job for you,” he said one day. When I rebuffed him, he persisted. And he continued to pester me until I joined him in his ministry to those in deepest need. I am so grateful. (He’s the one to the left of the cross. The one wearing a cowl and a stole.)
My friend Felicia. When I first heard of her, I was scared. I was a new rector. She was a former Anglican nun and a high church one at that. I imagined her to be formidable, and that she was. But in a way that I’d not encountered before. My friend Felicia was formidable in her commitment to grow more deeply into friendship with God–a work she had been about for over fifty years when I first met her. My friend Felicia took me by the hand and brought me with her in her quest to come closer to God. It’s a gift she keeps on giving me though she has now crossed over to those realms where saints eternal surely dwell.
It was the spring of 2010. I had left my job as preacher, priest and pastor the previous December. I had no altar. No table. No flock to love and tend and serve. Or so I thought. Until one day, my friend Eddie took me on a walk. We walked and walked and walked. Eddie posing a question and I responding as best I could. Stopping to sit and rest a bit as Eddie paused for me to let the thoughts sink in and take root. “What is it,” my Jesuit friend inquired, “What is it that makes up priest for you?” “What’s at the core?” I heard him say. That question changed my life. A clarity burst through the Berkeley fog. “The A, B, C’s, of course,” I said as much to myself as to him. In that moment, I knew that my priesthood was not dependent on a pulpit, an altar or even a congregation. I’m a priest called to declare God’s absolution and forgiveness to those I encounter along the way who need that reassurance of their deep worth in the sight of God. I’m called to extend God’s blessing. That’s something I can do a thousand times a day. And I am called to consecrate–to point to the holy in the midst of the ordinary.
We stood and began to walk back to our separate lives. Eddie grabbed my arm and turned me a quarter turn. As he did he pointed to the sunlight breaking through the clouds and fog. The redwood needles began to glisten. The ground under our feet took on a fragrance I’d not smelled before. The holy in the ordinary. My friend Eddie being priest for me.