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Who needs a license?

by Jaynan Clark Egland (President, WordAlone Network)

August 12, 2002


photo of Pr. JaynanI have received numerous responses to my writing last week regarding things hidden and revealed. Most understood it to be exactly what it was, an observation of how manipulation of practice can bring about desired results over a period of time. In other words, if you practice something long enough you will come to believe it and the change will be accepted based on the perceived norm. Faith and practice cannot be kept separate. . . . . they always eventually come back together.

Therefore, my comments had nothing to do with my support of or opposition to licensed lay ministry but rather the perceived path of manipulation of practice in order to achieve the three-fold ministry of ordination practiced by the Episcopal Church. This practice of three different ordinations of bishops, priests and deacons has been rejected on assembly floors, opposed in the study of ministry and finally stands side-by-side with our rejection of the mandatory imposition of an historic episcopate under the CCM agreement.

The greatest spiritual mentor of my life was Martin Heide, a lay pastor up in N.W. North Dakota. I don’t know if Martin ever was licensed or not. I don’t care and neither do any of the people he ministered to for 70+ years. Since when have we believed we need a license to do valid ministry? Perhaps licensing became the Lutherans own “historic episcopate”, a thing we have practiced long enough to believe it is really necessary for a valid sacrament, before we got the Episcopalian’s version imposed upon us in CCM.

As Lutherans, we have never accepted a false distinction between laity and clergy based on any spiritual differences. The doctrine of vocation clearly informs us that clergy are those called out to do public ministry of word and sacrament. We have clergy “for good order” not to do ordering of “how good” you are. Our present confusion within the Lutheran church witnesses to some practices, even pre-merger, that taught understandings of ministry contrary to our own vocational teaching. For example, most have come to accept that one needs to be licensed or given written permission by the bishop before they can preside at Holy Communion. Who is under “regular call” in that local church? If there is a pastor and an elected council and they choose to have lay person preside “for good order” in their church service, why should the bishop dictate over that choice?

We get a “license” to drive, why? In order to know that you have been rightly trained to maneuver an automobile in traffic. We also use licensing for identification purposes. Are training and identification the reasons we now license lay people for ministry? We license animals, why? We do it in order to keep track of where they are and who owns them. How did the church get involved in licensing? Why do we license lay people? We know whom we are owned by according to our baptismal certificate so that leaves location. If we license in order to keep track of people for reasons of “good order” fine and good but discern whether it is practiced for order or for control or for permission?

After 15 years of ordained ministry, I still have no understanding of myself as any different from any other baptized child of God. Vocationally, I’ve been called to do the public ministry of word and sacrament not because God’s other children can’t do it but because somebody has to grow the food, milk the cows, drive the trucks, run the companies. . . . . . . . . there is much work to be done. All requires training but what about a license?