John Simons, the Principal of the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, and one of the faculty members of the internship, offers his reflection on the need for young clergy and lay leaders in the church today:
When we conceived the Montreal Ministry Challenge (now Internship), it was partly in response to studies done by various think-tanks at the beginning of this century. They suggested that the ‘greying’ of the clergy in North American denominations needed to be addressed by churches and seminaries. Older clergy and second-career vocations have much to offer the church. But, these studies warned, the churches will miss the energy and creativity that younger people bring to ministry.
My experience of the Internship is that we were certainly blessed with young persons of energy and creativity. To which I would add, intelligence and imagination. Not everyone who has done the Internship has decided to go into seminary and that’s just fine with us. This is a discernment program, not a recruiting device.
My reasons for wanting to do it again are slightly different from those suggested by those earlier studies, and they have to do with the priesthood of the whole church. Back in the 70s we realized that women in ordained ministry enriched the priesthood of the whole church. Something similar is true in the case of younger people. One reason why the church exists is to bring the needs, anxieties and hopes of the world to articulation in God’s presence so that those worldly passions may be taken up and integrated into something holy. This happens all the time in liturgy and pastoral care, truth-telling and justice-making.
I don’t believe there are hard-and-fast generational differences. But the world changes, and every new world finds its hold in the hearts and minds of a new generation. So, unless the questions of the new generation, its aspirations and poetry are brought into the church and expressed in the way priests provide a focus for our common priesthood, we lose. We need the wisdom of the old, and we need the sensibility of the young.
Paul Jennings is the director of pastoral studies at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, and another of the founding faculty members of the internship. He writes the following on considering ordained ministry:
So why be a priest? Sure, the reasons not to be one are not hard to think of: the frustration of working for a dwindling institution that society seems to have left behind; obnoxious, crabby and demanding parishioners; low pay, relative to the years of education it requires; high rates of burnout; generally low coolness factor . . .
Still, some of us have become priests, and some of us are generally happy with, even excited about our work. The reasons why are admittedly pretty subjective; ask five priests and you’ll get six different answers. But here’s a few things that come to my mind:
Do you enjoy wrestling with the big questions: what it means to be human, what is the purpose of life, who is God? Do you enjoy thinking about them, reading, discussing, writing and speaking about them? You could be an academic, or a writer . . . or, you could be a priest.
Do you enjoy working with people of all ages, hearing about their hopes and dreams, their worries and sorrows? Do you enjoy challenging them and being challenged, watching them grow in their thinking, their confidence, their freedom? You could be an educator . . . or, you could be a priest.
Do you enjoy working in your neighbourhood, connecting with others, supporting and celebrating progressive initiatives, identifying problems and looking for solutions? You could be a community organizer, or a politician . . . or, you could be a priest.
Do you enjoy working with the great texts of our civilization, words of integrity and beauty, sharing them with others, listening to them speak across the centuries to our lives, letting them shape us into something more than the conformist roles that society gives us? You could be an English teacher, or a poet, or a literary critic . . . or, you could be a priest.
Do you enjoy being useful to people in need, in grief, illness, depression, addiction? Bringing compassion and understanding to the dark places in human life? You could be a counsellor, or a social worker, or a medical professional . . . or, you could be a priest.
Do you enjoy being politically aware, naming out loud what is wrong with our society, joining with others, at home and around the world, to articulate a more humane, more hope vision of community? You could be an activist, or a development worker, or a journalist . . . or, you could be a priest.
Have you been touched in your heart by the gospel of Jesus Christ: his person, his teachings, his acts of love, his vision of God, his life and death in solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized? You could be a Christian, and live a full and productive faith life following any of hundreds of professions . . . or, just maybe, you could be a priest.