It’s a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion. The questioner usually is asking if I am an ordained member of the clergy of the Episcopal Church. The answer, for the record, is no (although I have considered it from time to time).
It’s easy to see where this question might come from. I am a paid youth leader at my church, and am thus sometimes referred to as a youth minister (a word with clerical implications, of course). I hold an M.Div., the traditional clerical degree, from a seminary. When I have the opportunity, I write about and attend conferences and seminars about religion, spirituality, and prayer. I am actually licensed in the Baptist church, which in most states means I can legally perform weddings (I became an Episcopalian only a few years ago). And this fall, I will be a graduate student in Christian Spirituality (my eventual career goal is to be a professor of spirituality and spiritual formation). So I spend a lot of time doing some priestly things (teaching, leading church programs), and often move in the same circles as a lot of clergy. If it walks like a duck, and all that . . . so I understand the question.
The other question I get, of course, is, “Are you thinking about becoming a priest?” The answer to that is also no. For right now, I’m much happier teaching classes than leading churches.
But what is a priest, anyway? A priest is one who mediates between humanity and God: demonstrating who God is for humanity and representing humanity before God in prayer. Scripture refers to Jesus as our Great High Priest.
Our practice, of course, is to designate certain people who do this work of mediation for a career as priests, professional clergy persons—where priest is a job title. We also give these spiritual people the task of running our churches (though spirituality does not necessarily translate into managerial abilities or inclination.) Thus when we talk about priests, we are usually talking about a class of professionals who have careers in religion/spirituality and church ministry.
Yet aren’t we all called to mediate God’s grace and blessing to our fellow humans? And shouldn’t we all represent each other before God, praying for each other’s needs? In that sense, aren’t we all supposed to be priests? (Scripture does, in fact, suggest this.)
I am not a professional clergy person. But, whatever my career, it is my calling to be a channel of grace to the world, and to pray on behalf of others. So, yes, I suppose I am a priest.
Are you a priest?