Unaccountably the Standing Committee and synod of this diocese have failed to consult me. Again. This time it is over the decision to change the word ‘priest’ to ‘presbyter’ on some internal church documents.
As these church regulations are hugely unread by anybody even Sydney Anglicans (whose favourite publication remains the Sydney Morning Herald despite and probably because it is regularly denounced in the most correct line of pulpits), who cares?
Don’t get me wrong. There are probably enough people out there who know that a priest is defined in the dictionary as someone who offers a sacrifice, to make it worthwhile to change it. Jesus is our great high priest and we only need one. Agreed.
But presbyter? Why do we need weird churchy-sounding language, even if it is etymologically correct to say that ‘elder’ not ‘sacrificer’ was what the 1662 prayer book meant to say.
What about ‘pastor’ or even ‘minister’ – the words most people use anyway?
“Hi, I’m xxxx, the presbyter of the church that meets down the road,” doesn’t get my vote. The local branch of the Church of Scotland might be a tad upset with us.
If a church that has bishops can be called ‘Episcopal’ (from the Greek for overseer) and that’s the word some Anglicans overseas use instead of ‘Anglican’, then a church with presbyters could be Presbyterian. And is – down the road from you.
Which raises an urgent point. Well, urgent for this column anyway.
Some of the best and possibly more biblical ways of labeling things have already been used by other people.
The Uniting Church have just voted to call their ministers ‘pastors’.
And couldn’t we get rid of the confusion about calling our buildings ‘churches’, by calling them, let’s see… kingdom halls?
And seeing that ‘church’ means the assembling of God’s people together let’s call our local branches ‘Assemblies of God’. Well that one just might be free if the name ‘Australian Christian Church’ replaces it.
I have always liked the way some charismatic churches call their church committee ‘the oversight’. I would like to be the author of a pew bulletin (or in their case a chair bulletin) that had to explain a mistake. I would call it ‘an oversight by the oversight’. It might be worth sitting through the repetitive choruses for.
‘Oversight’ is another term that is sort of Biblical but hardly practical in English.
Still, let’s not get stuck into others. We have lots of funny language. How many people call their presbyter ‘rector’ or ‘vicar’ or even ‘area dean’? Well only to fellow Christians, not to outsiders.
The Synod motion is politically correct in a reformed protestant sort of way but it doesn’t go far enough.
Let’s talk about church in a language understood by normal people (a good protestant principle).
One good place to start slimming down our language would be honorifics. Do we need the titles ‘the Reverend’ (for a local pastor), ‘the Right Rev’ (for a bishop), or even ‘the Venerable’ (for an archdeacon)? The last archdeacon I met didn’t look too venerable, he looked like a normal bloke. And to be fair I don’t think the locals use ‘the Ven’.
The old language is gorgeous if you are a fan of Trollope’s 19th-century church novels. But most of us want things to be clear and not pompous. Which makes the use of ‘presbyter’ unlikely to move far beyond the walls of the diocesan headquarters at St Andrew’s House.