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Being an Anglican Priest
Unusual and/or Rarely Asked Questions


The Questions:
(this page was created May 23, 2011, and is in preparation.  Updated August 17, 2012.)



What’s the difference between “Incumbent” and “Priest-in-charge?”

Both these titles refer to a member of the clergy who has primary pastoral and administrative responsibilities in an Anglican congregation.  However, an “Incumbent” is someone who has been granted the position on a more or less permanent basis.  Often he or she is installed in a formal public ceremony traditionally called an “Induction.”  Some people even suggest that once “inducted,” an “Incumbent” has a form of tenure, such that it is difficult to get them out of the position.

A “Priest-in-charge,” on the other hand, holds the position in a more temporary way, entirely at the Bishop’s discretion.  No tenure is either expressed or implied, though there may be some ceremony of installation if the Bishop intends the priest to be in the parish for a considerable length of time, or if there is a difficult and possibly lengthy task to be accomplished.

In many jurisdictions, the word “Rector” is used instead of “Incumbent,” and means roughly the same thing.1

“Incumbent,” “Rector,” and “Priest-in-charge” are just some of the many specialty titles for clergy in the Anglican church.  It may help you to know that a fairly extensive glossary of clergy titles is available on this website.  Click here to view it.

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What is a good thing to write in a card for a person being ordained?
  (see also the article on ordination gifts, on the FAQ page)

It is tempting to write “Congratulations” on an ordination card, and in some respects congratulations are well-deserved, because the ordinand has worked hard and gone over many hurdles to get to this point.  However, congratulations tend to look back over past accomplishments, while ordination is very much a beginning, where what lies ahead is infinitely more important than what lies behind.

The best thing to write would be prayerful, asking God’s blessing on the life of sacred ministry that is about to begin.  Reinforcing the sentiment with an appropriate passage from the Bible is a very nice additional touch.

The following are examples of messages that can be written on cards, or inscribed in gifts given to clergy.  I highly recommend that you use your own words rather than mine, adapting these to make them sound like something that you yourself would write:
  • Wishing you every blessing on the day of your ordination as a priest [deacon] in the Body of Christ
  • May your life as a priest [deacon] in the Church of God be a joy to you and a blessing to others
  • I pray that God will bless you richly in this journey that you have begun, and that by God’s grace you will be a blessing to the Church
Selections from Scripture:
For a priest:
  • Let your priests, Lord God, be clothed with salvation... (2 Chronicles 6:41)
  • That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness... (Psalm 43:4)
  • Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care... (1 Peter 5:2)
  • To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)  (also suitable for a deacon)
For a deacon:
  • If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:11)
  • God’s fellow-worker [deacon] in spreading the gospel of Christ... (1 Thessalonians 3:2)
  • Those who have served well [as deacon] gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:13)

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Are Anglican Priests ordained for life?

In short, yes.  Once a priest, always a priest.

The same applies to deacons and to bishops.  Once you have been ordained to one of the three basic orders of clergy, you can’t wipe it off, you can’t shake it off, you can’t rub it off.  You’re stuck with it.  You’re a priest [or bishop, or deacon] for ever.

What if you do something horrible or criminal?  Then you are a priest who has sinned, but you’re still a priest.

If you write a rude resignation letter; if you preach heresy and deny the Christian message; if you call down curses upon the church and its heirarchy; you may provoke a process in which you are formally expelled from the company of clergy, but you merely become a “defrocked priest.”  You can’t shake off the ordained designation.  You remain a priest, but are now merely a priest in disgrace.

Theologians have a technical term for this, calling it the “sacramental character.”  But you don’t have to be a theologian to understand how real the permanence of ordination can be.  For example, have you ever met someone and enjoyed conversation with them, only to find out later that they had once been a Roman Catholic priest, and had quit in order to get married?  Do you not revise your understanding of who that person is?  Do you not assume that they still carry some of that aura of ordination?

Here’s another example – not of the permanence of ordination, but of the invisible “mark” that it puts upon a person:  suppose you go to a social occasion, where everyone is laughing and talking, and perhaps having a drink, and you meet someone who is just one of the crowd, taking part like everyone else... but then after a while someone tells you that this person is an Anglican priest (or any sort of Christian clergy).  Upon hearing this, do you not automatically run through everything that you have said to the person to make sure it wasn’t inappropriate?  Do you look at them a second time and note how much they are drinking?  If you yourself don’t do this, I can assure you that there are very many people who do.

Being ordained sets you apart.  People treat you as a little bit different.  They notice if you use crude language, or if you drink excessively, or if your children are hooligans (ever hear of the “Preacher’s Kid Syndrome”?).  And if you quit, they note – for ever – that you once were ordained.

Yes absolutely, an Anglican priest is ordained for life.  It is affirmed by the theologians, and in everyday life it is confirmed again and again.

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Do Anglican priests tithe?  If so, where does their Tithe go?

Giving generously is an important Christian moral principle, right up there with “love your neighbour” and “forgive your enemy.”  Thus, just as clergy are expected to be loving and forgiving, it is also an expectation – as it is for any Christian – that they be generous with their money and possessions.

But, is “being generous” the same as the Tithe?  In some respects, yes.  In its Biblical roots, the Tithe is a gift that is offered specifically to God’s work.  And helping others – feeding the hungry, relieving the poor, and sharing your stuff with those who need it – is most certainly God’s work.2  Of course the Tithe is more than simple generosity: it is a principle of proportionality, wherein my generosity should increase when my income increases, and may decrease if I become financially worse off.  In that sense the tithe is a relationship with God, for my giving is seen as a direct response to how God blesses my life.  In addition, the word “tithe” is an expression of the number ten, and suggests that at least ten percent of my stuff is not really my stuff at all, but something that I am obligated to distribute in God’s name and to God’s work.

This brings me to a very simple series of statements to be put to any member of the clergy: “Do you believe that the church is ‘God’s work in the world’?  If you do not believe this, then I wonder what you are doing being a priest?  On the other hand, if you do believe that the church is truly God’s work in the world, then it stands to reason that your generous giving will include a sizeable gift to the church, wouldn’t it?”

So in my opinion, clergy ought to make a significant contribution to Christ’s church as part of their Christian generosity.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are obliged to direct their church offerings to the congregation that pays their salary – which can give parishioners the mistaken impression that they are getting a “rebate” on what they pay their priest.  However it’s done, a proportion of every priest’s income should go to the Church, whether it is to their diocese, or to their national church, or even to some other diocese or congregation that does not employ them.

There is, however, one good reason to direct one’s Tithe to the paying congregation: it becomes an object lesson to parish leaders.  If you as a priest wish to teach your congregation to Tithe, you’d best lead by example.  “Walk the talk,” as the saying goes, or “Practice what you preach.”  Even though the people who count up the offerings on Sunday mornings are committed to keeping their mouth shut about what they find on the offering plates, it is uncanny how swiftly the news can and does get out... “The Rector tithes, you know!” As you can read on the FAQ page of this website, the congregation always knows what the Rector’s income is.  When parishioners see ten percent of that on the offering plate, they know what it entails.  An enormous lesson is thus taught, and Anglicans as a whole need to learn it.

Historically, Anglicans have not done much thinking about the Tithe.  In the formative years of Anglicanism (1534 to the mid-1700s) the church was essentially a department of the English government, and the government, in one way or another, paid all the bills.  So there was no need for churches to direct the people’s offerings to buildings and salaries.  There is an interesting bit of trivia that illustrates the phenomenon neatly: in all the earliest versions of the Book of Common Prayer, at the point in the liturgy where the offerings of the people are supposed to be collected, those offerings are described as “alms.” The word, “alms” means “a gift to benefit the poor;” it does not in any way refer to a church’s administrative budget.  As a result, if you scratch the surface of many an Anglican, you’ll find that deep down they believe that money given to the poor is real Christian generosity, while money given to church maintenance and administration is, by comparison, less worthy.  Raising money for “bricks and mortar” used to be a common Anglican derogatory description of the process of gathering funds for annual church budgets.

That’s simply foolishness, of course.  There is overhead in delivering food and medicine to the impoverished of Africa, and there is overhead to preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments.  All money given that enables the feeding of the hungry and all money given that enables spreading the Gospel is money given to God.

Still, over the years some Anglican clergy have been infected with the view that they don’t have to give generously to the church.  One of my colleagues, now long dead and really from a different era, said, “I give my whole life to the church.  They pay me to do that.  I don’t have to give a rebate on my legitimately earned salary.”  But such a statement leads eventually to an ungenerous and self-serving life.  In my opinion, all Christians, however they make their living, are called to give ten percent of their income to God’s work.  In fact, ten percent is but the beginning.

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Are Anglican priests permitted to drink alcoholic beverages?

There is nothing in Anglican teaching or practice that prohibits drinking in moderation.  You will meet Anglican clergy who enjoy their scotch, others who are wine connoisseurs, and many who, with great pleasure, will knock back a beer or two on a hot day.  Communion services in the Anglican church consist of bread and wine, not bread and fruit juice.

Since there are no church rules of any kind prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, common sense is the order of the day.

Drinking and driving?  Bad idea.  Consequently, if I am visiting a parishioner, and am offered a drink, I usually decline, unless I’m spending the evening or having dinner with them, and have plenty of time to clear the alcohol out of my system before driving home.

Drinking to the point of drunkenness?  Christianity, not just Anglicanism, tells us that this is out of bounds.  Drunkenness is identified in the Bible as a “work of the flesh” that would make a person ineligible for the Kingdom of God.3  So it would be just as important to stay sober as to love your neighbour and forgive your enemy – which are other great Christian moral virtues.

Sitting in a restaurant wearing a clergy collar and having alcohol with my meal?  Not always a good idea.  It might give the wrong impression to another patron who is struggling with a drinking problem.

In my country (Canada) some of our aboriginal nations have formally declared that their reserves, their traditional territories, are “dry,” meaning that no alcohol of any kind can be bought, sold, brewed or consumed on the territory.  This is usually in response to the fact that alcoholism can be a terrible blight in their community.  Now, if I were a priest exercising ministry on a “dry reserve” such as that, even though it is okay for me to drink alcohol myself, and nothing in Anglicanism prohibits it, I would never buy it or consume it during my time there as a priest – even in my own home – simply out of respect for the people.

If I am showing signs of being an alcoholic myself, that’s a different matter.  Do I drink because of “stress?”  Do I drink to control my moods?  Do I have several drinks every day, or am I seldom fully sober?  Then I have a serious drinking problem and I need to get some help.  This would be true whether I am priest or lay.  To a person suffering from alcoholism, a drink is forbidden; not because of Christianity, nor because of Anglicanism, but because of the disease.  If I am an alcoholic, sobriety is the only way to prevent a ruined life.

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May an Anglican priest own a gun?

In short, if an ordinary citizen in the country where the priest lives may own a gun, the priest may own a gun.

Nothing in Anglican doctrine prohibits owning weapons, and indeed it may be very useful to have a firearm if you live in a remote place where there is danger from wild animals.

More importantly, nothing in Anglican doctrine prohibits a priest from enjoying the sport of hunting, and bringing home game for the freezer.

There is a tradition, however, that clergy should not carry weapons to be used in human conflict.  For example, I understand that in World War Two, military chaplains in Commonwealth forces went about their duties unarmed even while their units were in combat.  To this day, chaplains in the Canadian Armed Forces do not bear arms under any circumstances in the course of their duties, in a theatre of war or otherwise.4

Carrying a weapon to use against a human assailant, even in self defense, is in stark contrast to Jesus’ injunction to forgive enemies and turn the other cheek, and is thus seen by many to be inappropriate for a priest.5

It goes without saying that a priest who does own a gun is obliged to comply with all local laws and regulations that apply to the ownership of weapons.

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What is involved if a Roman Catholic priest wants to switch, and become an Anglican priest?

Roman Catholic priests are fully recognized by Anglicans, as priests within Christ’s Holy Catholic church.  The Anglican church does not seek to “re-ordain” a Roman Catholic priest or deacon.

However, Anglicans certainly wish to be sure that the priests who take this step truly and readily believe that this church of ours is a genuine expression of Christ’s Body, and that our sacraments are “true” sacraments.  Every bishop has discretion as to how to attain such assurance – there is no one standard procedure written up in canon law (indeed the Anglican Communion does not even have a world-wide expression of canon law) – but I am certain that almost all bishops would want to observe the priest over a period of time.  In other words, don’t expect to go to a bishop and say, “Here I am!” and be assigned to a parish the next day!

You may be asked to take a course of study in Anglican history, if the diocese where you make the application has access to a good seminary.  You may be asked to serve in a parish under the supervision of an Anglican priest – attending administrative meetings; preaching, leading intercessions, and doing some manner of pastoral care, to see how you function within Anglican polity.  It is entirely at the bishop’s discretion.

When the bishop is ready, you will be asked to publicly declare your assent to the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican church.  This might be done when others are being ordained priest – it will certainly be done at a large public gathering, probably in a cathedral – but you will not yourself be re-ordained.  From the beginning of the service you will be robed with a priest’s stole, and there will be no laying-on of hands.  You will merely be asked some questions and make some ceremonial statements in front of the congregation.

After this you will be permitted to preside at the Eucharist, and will be eligible to be assigned a parish with a living income under the protocols for parish appointments that are followed in that diocese and by that bishop.

You might ask, “Do many Roman Catholics take this step?”

I have personally known only one priest who made the switch in my diocese during my years of service.  He did so because he wished to be married, and he served the church faithfully until his retirement many years later.  I know another priest who made the switch elsewhere and he, too, continues to serve the church faithfully.  His motive was the same: he chose to marry.  However, two is not a huge number.

Many priests who leave the Roman Catholic priesthood do so because of marriage, and they have no other quarrel with the doctrine of their church.  Indeed, because getting married is the breaking of a vow that they made, their wedding often causes them to feel guilty – as though they are unworthy of the priestly calling.  Thus, they don’t seek priestly duties in other denominations, they merely fade into the Roman Catholic laity, and get some form of livelihood in the secular world.

Those who actually “leave” Rome, often feel that they have joined some sort of second-class church – that they have “failed” the true church in some fashion.  Such priests might not serve the Anglican church as wholeheartedly as they should, and we would want to discourage them from making the formal switch.  Bishops, therefore, usually try to wait for a while and have you serve in some capacity under supervision without pay in an Anglican church before formally receiving you and assigning you to a parish as its Rector.

If you are a Roman Catholic priest and are starting to think about switching, sooner or later you will need to make an appointment with the Anglican bishop of your region.  You should be able to do this in the strictest confidence, and learn the specifics of what that particular bishop will require.  Afterwards you can make up your mind at your own speed and in your own time.

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While this page is in preparation
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FOOTNOTES

1  There is a difference in the meaning of the words “rector” and “incumbent” – a difference that does not translate into any noticeably distinct duties and/or responsibilities: “rector” suggests an office that has “authority;” while “incumbent” points more to the burdens of the office.  Check the etymology of the two words and you can see it.
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2  See Matthew 25:31-46, where on Judgment Day, people are assessed on the degree to which they visited the sick and the prisoner, or helped the poor and the homeless during their lifetime.  All deeds of mercy are there defined as being done – or not done – directly to Jesus Christ Himself.
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3  See Galatians 5:19-21. It says, “the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
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4  The sentence containing “do not bear arms under any circumstances,” is quoted directly from an email that was sent to me from the information desk of the Canadian Armed Forces, dated 15, December, 2011 1348 HRS.
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5  Here is an example from long ago: in the early 16th Century, the people of Maidstone, Kent, in England, made a formal complaint to the Archbishop of Canterbury about their vicar, Giles Reede, who, they said, went about “in a canvas doublet and bow and arrows unpriestly” and also “walks nightly... with a knife by his side.” – K.L. Wood-Legh (Ed.), Kentish Visitations of Archbishop William Warham and his deputies, 1511 - 1512 Kent Records, Vol 24, (Maidstone, Kent 1984), pp.283ff. (I have modernized the spelling of their complaint).  Clearly they did not think that it was appropriate for their vicar to walk about armed with either knife, or bow and arrow.
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