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The Liberation of the Laity [Paperback]

By Anne Rowthorn (Author)
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The Liberation of the Laity by Anne Rowthorn

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Pages   152
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.31" Width: 6.31" Height: 0.48"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 6, 2000
Publisher   Wipf & Stock Publishers
ISBN  1579105874  
ISBN13  9781579105877  

Availability  0 units.

More About Anne Rowthorn

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Anne Rowthorn is the author of "The Liberation of the Laity," "Caring for Creation," and "Earth and All the Stars: Reconnecting with Nature through Hymns, Stories, Poems, and Prayers." She has lived in many different parts of the globe, and taught courses in Ministry in Daily Life at Hartford Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School.

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > Leadership

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Required reading!  May 27, 2005
When reading this book, it struck me that it should be required reading of anyone going into the ordained ministry in the Episcopal church or other churches like it - by that I mean churches that have historical tendencies toward dominanting clergy (and that is, upon reflection, most churches). Originally published by Morehouse Press (one of the Episcopal Church's publishing houses), it is now available through Wipf & Stock, one of the great reprint houses, who do a good service at keeping valuable but less-popular-by-the-masses books available.

I was reminded while reading this book of Verna Dozier's book, 'The Calling of the Laity'. What I said in comment on that book applies equally here -- Too many people think of ministry as the province or the responsibility of the professional ministers and clergy, or, if that circle is to be broadened, then to also include the church leaders, elders, and other 'significant persons' in the congregations. Not so! Like Dozier's book, Rowthorn's also contains arguments strongly against this sense of clericalism (as much an ill of the laity as it is of the clergy), and making persuasive and passionate pleas for the people to get out and do the ministry to which they were called through their commission at baptism.

As much as the church likes to hold to an early idea in the theology and history of orders, in fact the type of three-fold ordained ministry did not solidify until the third or fourth century. 'The development of the clerical class, as early as the early fourth century, also resulted in the devaluation of the New Testament understanding of the 'Priesthood of All Believers,' the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ and the ministering community of the faithful without rank.' It still slips into the subconscious - frequently one hears or reads of the 'three-fold' ministry (meaning bishop - priest - deacon); where are the laypersons?

'Unempowered and passive, laypersons stepped back and allowed the professional ministers to control the mind, the voice, the heart of the Church, while they sat helplessly on the fringe. And they have believed the myths propagated by seventeen hundred years of clericalization: that laity go to church, but clergy are the Church; that professional ministers are more religious, more holy, and are the exclusive mediators between God and the people...' Rowthorn's paragraph does go on from here, in very direct and pointed fashion, to show the kind of long-standing historical diminution of the role of laypersons. This has not been good for the clergy as a whole, either, as Rowthorn explains that it leads to unreasonable expectations, isolation, and disorientation with the realities of life for the non-clerical types.

Rowthorn argues against the simplistic view that empowerment of the laity is contained in more lay leadership in church institutions and liturgical functions. Ministry belongs to the entire church; the word 'liturgy' is often used to describe those carefully choreographed events in church, overseen (and sometimes exclusively done) by the clergy, but in fact the root of the word 'liturgy' means 'work of the people'. 'Liturgy is public service done for others,' Rowthorn writes. She quotes people such as Louis Weil, Juan Luis Segundo and Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy who argue for a greater connection in the community - that liturgy must have a life and spirit beyond this, and not sink to either an insular event nor a group enactment of seekers after 'individualized piety'. It is also meant to be an act in which life is breathed into the body of Christ, the people of God, on behalf of the entire world.

Rowthorn's text is dramatic and direct. 'If the laity of Christ's Church are intentionally to regain their central place in the body as its prime ministers, they will have to put the clergy in their place.' Rowthorn uses the term 'prime minister' to elevate the lay persons beyond their current status; she does not seek equality, but indeed, if the clergy are supposed to be servant ministers, then the laity ought to be first, not last in the list of ministers of the church. She argues against the pyramidal view of the church with clergy at the apex, arguing more for spheres of influences, areas of function and focus. She even goes so far as to suggest that radical, anathema idea of permitting laypersons to occasionally pronounce absolution and preside at the Eucharist - 'there is no biblical or theological reason why it should not' be done.

Strong words and strong ideas - there are parts of the Anglican communion growing in the direction of empowering the laity, but unfortunately, there are as many places it seems trying to restrict it or ignore. The recent controversy in the Anglican communion over the acceptance of an openly-gay bishop once again shows the clerical prejudices - the issue wasn't that important when it 'only' involved laypersons or lesser orders, but rather only became a crisis when it reached to top of the pyramid.

I hope that Rowthorn's book, and Dozier's book, and other like them, continue to be available, and continue to influence future leaders of the church, ordained and lay.

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