Worship: Harness experience, wisdom of retired priests

Friday, August 23rd, 2019 12:00 |
Church. Photo/Courtesy

An Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) priest looks gracious in his vestment. As he matches behind the line of choir members, lay readers and other officials to celebrate a mass, he truly fits the part of the shepherd. 

The flock rises to acknowledge his arrival, then he makes the pronouncements that indicate the beginning of a ceremony.

On special occasions, the priest is vested with powers including those of inspecting a guard of honour. 

The governance structure of ACK ensures that a priest, whatever his station in the church, oozes power and influence. His residence is known as vicarage, not an ordinary address. 

The influence that a priest wields is immense. It is hard to imagine a priest coming to another priest’s jurisdiction to minister without the latter’s permission. Besides, there are ceremonies that only the priest can preside over.  

Imagine these trappings, and one can be a priest for a long time, get used to the trappings of office, then at the attainment of the retirement age, is sent home. 

At the end of service, the congregation would reward the priest with wheelbarrow, may be a cow, probably a spade plus a few shillings and then wish him well.

By retirement, the priest may still be strong enough to do a lot of things. But his whole life has been spent serving the church and he probably knows nothing better than serving the church. But now he can’t because there is a new priest.

When the retired priest goes to church on Sunday, nobody stands up for him. He has no choir, no lay readers to shepherd and if he wishes to deliver a sermon, he would have to seek permission. One can imagine the new priest being reluctant to grant his predecessor permission to preach because the new priest wants to stamp his authority.

This week, ACK priests are meeting to discuss many issues affecting the country. They will also deliberate on matters that plague the church. 

But there is an issue yawning for attention. How can the church address the plight of retired priests who are still strong enough to be of use to the community, but who the church structure does not accommodate?

Most churches in Kenya are wealthy. They own massive chunks of land, schools, colleges and seminaries and other enterprises. In some of these facilities, the wisdom of the old can come in handy.

For example, there are many colleges that struggle with serious moral and theological issues where deep reflection may be needed. This is one area where the seasoned and cool minds can help. 

Many retired priests have nuggets of wisdom that, if they were written, would be of great benefit for the young and future generations. 

But to record such memoirs, they would need a place for reflection and resources. The scarcity of wisdom in the wider society plagues the church too.

These are duties that would profitably engage retired priests making it possible for them to remain useful in the community long after active service. 

Some churches have mechanisms that take care of their retired clergy. But there are many that leave the men who only recently had the trappings of the priestly office, to watch from the sides.

This is an item that should find its way into the agenda of ACK and other churches so that these people who have comforted many a soul during moments of sorrow and lowliness, do not find themselves confined to those same moments for the entirety of their lives without any comfort. — The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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