Kevin, who is single, is a priest in a small community in central Ontario with a high proportion of retirees and seniors. The pandemic has been ongoing for several months, but his parish has been coping fairly well until recently because of the large number of committed lay volunteers. Now, however, the majority of his flock, including these volunteers, are either ill themselves or have been quarantined in their own homes. Morale is now flagging. Although there is a well-established support network and people are maintaining a good prayer life in their own homes, Kevin does continue to visit on a cyclical basis with all of his parishioners, which everyone tells him is essential for their spiritual and emotional well-being. Recently, he has received a request from the director of nursing at the local hospital asking him to take on an ad hoc chaplain-type role, at least part time, because of the huge numbers of very ill patients who are asking to see a priest or minister. This would stretch his current mission in a formalized way beyond seeing his own parishioners and other Anglicans who are hospitalized. According to the director of nursing, the other local clergy, who are quite elderly, cannot cope with either the volume of the patients of their own denominations or with the wear and tear of the increasingly-stressful situation.
- Identify the key expectations that contribute to Kevin’s dilemma. – for himself; for his parish; for the community
- Where are those consistent with your experience? Where are they different?
- What information does Kevin need in order to make his decision?
- Anglicans have traditionally understood parish ministry to include all who live within the parish boundaries (cf English parish system) not just those who attend the church. This remains a remnant in our memories and is still assumed unconsciously by many. For example, funeral homes will call on Anglican clergy when the family of the deceased has no formal connection with a church. Is this assumption reasonable? Appropriate?
- Other denominations have not shared that sense of community responsibility to the same degree and have clear membership boundaries. How do we relate to the community and other denominations in light of this?
- Parishioners have said the clergy visits are ‘essential for well-being’ – how might this have been communicated in the past? Present? Is this a healthy or unhealthy clergy/parishioner relationship?
Biblical texts for reflection:
Early in the life of the church the disciples had to wrestle with the extension of ministry into Gentile community (Cornelius’ household & Peter); Sharing of ministry responsibilities (Acts 6) when the community grew too large to handle; Jesus leaves the multitudes waiting to be healed in order to continue his ministry (Luke 4:40-44); others…..
How do these texts illuminate the situation?
- The examination in the ordination liturgy asks: “Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, labouring together with them and with your fellow ministers to build up the family of God?” Whom are clergy ‘called to serve’? Anglicans only? Whole community?
- The ordinal also asks: “Will you do your best to pattern your life (and that of your family) in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?” What would be a ‘wholesome example’ in this situation?
Kevin will need to access clear medical information on the nature of the pandemic, the way in which the illness is transmitted and recommended precautions. Preparation before a pandemic would provide a foundation of information on which the specific nature of the particular virus could be added when it becomes available. What are the sources of that information in your community?
- Should Kevin take on this extra duty when an increased presence in the hospital will expose him and his own quarantined parishioners to greater personal risk of contamination? What would you do in Kevin’s situation?
- If Kevin does take on this extra role, it is clear from the director of nursing that the demand exceeds his personal capacity – even if he were to work 24/7. How would you respond in Kevin’s situation?
Karen is a priest in a mid-size suburban parish and a single parent with two young children, aged four and 18 months. Her partner died in a motor vehicle accident two years ago. She is the only priest on staff in her parish, but there is an elderly honorary associate. The pandemic is only several weeks old, but it has struck with particular vengeance in Karen’s parish, which is close to an international airport. So far Karen has been quite successful in implementing the diocesan plan, including mobilizing dozens of volunteers. It is rapidly becoming apparent, though, that many of the very ill and dying do not wish to see lay persons for pastoral care but want to see Karen. Karen’s bishop advised her at the outbreak of the pandemic to be very vigilant about her own self-care and that of her children, given their tragic circumstances and particular vulnerabilities and has encouraged her to think through these issues for herself.
- Identify the key expectations that contribute to Karen’s ethical dilemma. – for the Bishop; for herself; for her parish; for the community
- Where are those consistent with your experience? Where are they different?
Karen has developed a strong network of volunteers and appropriately delegated responsibilities. However there is still an expectation that the priest must be the one to visit the sick & dying. This assumes an ecclesiology operative in the parish that has the priest at the centre, essential for pastoral ministry. The dynamics of parish size, age, vision and history will all be factors in the perspective of the parish that may become points of conflict in the midst of a crisis such as this.
Discuss the dynamics of the operative ecclesiology from your experience of parish life.
Karen will need to access clear medical information on the nature of the pandemic, the way in which the illness is transmitted and recommended precautions. Preparation before a pandemic would provide a foundation of information on which the specific nature of the particular virus could be added when it becomes available. Karen will need to assess both her vulnerability and that of her children. What sources should Karen seek? Where is that information available in your community?
Ordination/Parenthood – Vocational dilemmas
Both ordination and parenthood have a call on Karen’s life as vocations. The ordinal asks: Will you do your best to pattern your life (and that of your family) in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?” What would be a ‘wholesome example’ in this situation?
Karen will need to weigh the balance between her vocations as parent & priest and discern the boundaries of each. This may bring her into conflict with her Bishop, her parishioners or her family. How do we handle conflicts when they emerge from commitments we have made in good faith? What resources do we call on – personally? Spiritually?
- Karen would like to respond to the requests to see her parishioners in the hospitals and nursing homes, but is terrified of leaving her children orphans. She feels enormous guilt about her anxieties and ponders constantly whether she is being called to minister to the dying or protect the living. What would you do in Karen’s place?
- In whatever decision is made Karen will need support. Identify the kinds of support Karen would need and how those supports would be nurtured. Where do you find support in the face of difficult decisions re ministry and family?