by Fr. Peter Preble
Yesterday a few parishioners and I went on a sort of pilgrimage to St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. I have written about my experience at this monastery in the past so I will not go into a lot of history about the monastery. Follow this link to the monastery for a more complete history.
I will say this however, St. Tikhon’s is the oldest Orthodox Monastery in America and part of their mission has been a seminary to train priests. Yesterday was field education day and we were able to witness part of the presentations during lunch that we were blessed to share with the seminary community. One of the priests that presented said that St. Tikhon seminary did not exist to create theologians but to create priests that pray and that pastor! I cannot agree more. We need theologians for sure, but what the Church needs more than anything is priests that pray and priests that lead and priests that love!
The clergy of our Churches are getting older and the Church is going to need men, men of prayer, and men of action, to replace them. As I quoted above we need pastors, men who will come to a church and will truly love those people that God has given them to pastor. As pastors we need to meet our people where they are and love them and help them to grow in the walk with the Lord. This is our primary and greatest task.
I recently wrote an essay about leadership in the Church. I wrote that one of the most important characteristics of leadership is courage, the courage to take risks and the courage to just lead. I was reminded in one of the comments that love is also a necessary component of leadership. This is very true and I am thankful for the reminder.
One aspect of pastoral ministry that I believe is sorely lacking in the pastoral ministry of today is love. We must love the people that God has given us to care for no matter what happens. This is what Jesus did and this is the model that He left for us. Jesus loved, genuinely loved, everyone He came into contact with. If they needed correction He corrected them with love, not with an iron fist of power, but with love. He would point out where they had gone wrong and would teach them how to get their lives back on track. This is what we need to be teaching the future priests in the Church. We need to teach them to teach and we need to teach them to preach. Teach and preach the love of God in word but more importantly in action!
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
St. John writes these words in the third chapter of his Gospel as important words that we in ministry must remember. John expresses such humility here as an example for all of us. With this verse, John renounces all earthly glory for the sake of Jesus Christ. By allowing Jesus to increase in him, true glory is found. This was a hard lesson for to learn after all it is all about me right? We are the hands of Christ and all the glory for whatever we do belongs to Him and only to Him! Ministry must be about Jesus Christ and the love for others and not about us. We need to be focused on the other. We must decrease so He can increase.
Just as we need leaders with courage we need priests who are not afraid to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty in ministry that will form, inform, and transform lives. Sorry guys but we cannot do that from behind a desk! We need to be out there with people, real people, and with real issues bringing the love of Jesus to their lives and making a difference. And we need our seminaries to teach how to do that
God bless the many, many priests and priests families by the way who are out there, in some cases barely surviving themselves, to bring Jesus into places that are not comfortable. The inner cities, prisons, hospitals, soup kitchens, the wonderful work of FOCUS North America and what IOCC is doing around the world. These men and their families who have sacrificed so much to be priests in the first place and who willingly and cheerfully live out their priestly vocations every day for the glory of God.
We need to pray daily for the dedicated men and women who serve the Church and for those who are preparing to serve the Church and priests, missionaries, and other ministers in the Church, some of those who we met yesterday at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. My prayers will be with you and thank you for your dedicated service to the Church.