Chaplain of Safeway

I’ve been thinking lately about just what it is that a priest does. What’s the value of the collar?

After a service a few weeks ago in which I was the preacher, I went over to the rector’s house for lunch. On the way, we had to stop at the grocery store to pick up a few essentials.

It was a wonder to watch this particular priest in that Safeway. He knew the name of virtually every employee, asked real questions about their family members, and was a generally positive and supportive presence. His wife later told me she calls him the “Chaplain of Safeway.” He told me he’s baptized one of the employees and counseled others in difficult times.

I loved this model of ministry, not least because it spoke directly to the kind of incarnational ministry of presence I have been urging in virtually every sermon I preach of late. This rector made a decision to share an existence with a group of people that don’t usually darken the door of his church and great ministerial blessings were flowing from that decision.

The question I asked myself later was this – does he have to be ordained to have this kind of relationship? I think the answer is yes, or at least, it’s a lot easier. I think the employees are likely more willing to open up to him because they see him in his clericals than they would be to an equally friendly and compassionate person not in a collar.

This experience was also one more data point in my new movement to create a new sacrament. (Isn’t it odd how you start divinity school and all of a sudden embark on a heretical crusade?) There are seven at the moment in the Episcopal Church and I’d like for there to be eight – the sacrament of presence, or, to give it a name I heard once, the sacrament of the present moment. I think adding this sacrament would give us helpful language to describe what it is that the bulk of a priest’s ministry actually consists of.

Part of the problem with this idea, no doubt, lies in defining just what is meant by sacramental presence and I’m not sure I can define it myself. But I know it when I see it and I saw it in Safeway a few weeks back.

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