Remembering the humanity of our leaders

Ordination, though joyful, carries with it a risk that “authority will be attached to the ordained without reserve,” the primate writes. Photo: Graham Lacdao/St. Paul’s Cathedral
Published February 1, 2024
Photo: Anglican Church of Canada/Milos Tosic

There is great excitement when someone in your family or parish is ordained. A sense of pride and joy permeates the congregation and there are immediately higher expectations, as if the person suddenly became more holy or closer to God. Deacons read the gospel and prepare the eucharistic table. Priests and bishops are given the authority to preside at sacramental events. They baptize, marry, absolve and bless. They declare what God has done and is doing in the lives of God’s people. They become the image and presence of God for others in those moments—a weighty responsibility.

The process of becoming ordained is joyful, and being ordained is a privilege that elicits reverence and awe. But there’s also a danger—that authority will be attached to the ordained without reserve, and to the person rather than the office of deacon, priest or bishop. Both lay people and clergy may forget that the power held in these ministries belongs to God alone. Lay people may grant—consciously or unconsciously—undue authority to clergy. For their part, clergy are sometimes not aware of the authority they are granted or of the boundaries that should be placed on their roles and relationships.

We envision our ministries in a hierarchical way, with archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons “above” lay people. I would rather we envisioned ministry in circles of connection and accountability. God’s work is supported by the sacramental and pastoral leadership of clergy but is carried out by laity in every sphere of life—in family, school, workplace and community. We speak of “servant leadership” as the model for serving people in their callings.

Why am I focusing on this relationship? February 2024 marks the 16th anniversary of my consecration as a bishop and this year I will have spent 39 years in ordained ministry. It has been a tremendous privilege to walk alongside parishes and dioceses as a deacon, priest, suffragan bishop, diocesan bishop and primate in the ministries to which I have been called by the church. So many have invited me into intimate moments in their lives of joy and sorrow, of pain and celebration. I am humbled by their trust and faith as we come before God together. I am also aware of times when expectations far exceeded my personal gifts or capacities and I struggled to be recognized as a human being, unable to meet all these expectations. I hear stories from other clergy and bishops of the times when unmet expectations have spilled over into rudeness, frustration and anger expressed to them inappropriately.

Please remember the humanity of your leaders. Like you, they love God and have offered themselves in service to God and the church. The laying on of hands in the service of ordination confirms the presence of God’s Spirit for a particular ministry but does not magically bring superpowers to meet all expectations. All the people of God, lay and ordained, long for the same fullness of life, grounded in God’s love that forgives, renews, restores—and invites us to find the joy of the reign of Christ in one another’s gifts.

A well-known chorus includes the line, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is a reminder that how we treat one another is a witness to the world of God’s love. May it be known in all our relationships.


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