I just got back from a CREDO conference in Virginia. It's a week-long clergy development conference hosted by the Church Pension Fund for Episcopal clergy. We had priests there from 22 different dioceses around the nation. I've been in gatherings of clergy before, and generally left with the feeling that we're a bit like manure. Spread us out and we do some good, but pile us up and all we do is raise a stink.
Not so this time. Because the focus of the conference, and hence the purpose of the relationships built, was personal professional and spiritual growth, we took time to listen to one another deeply. My small group became a quiet haven where I could share what was really bugging me, what I really thought about things, and what I think I knew and didn't know. It was especially poignant because we were theologically quite diverse.
The experience confirmed for me something that I have thought for some time. The role of clergy in society is to open the eyes of the general public. This function is shared by education and to a degree, law, but in the matter of religion it takes on a dimension none of the other two can really address. Clergy invite people to look deeply into their experiences of the world around them and the relationships in which they participate, to draw out wisdom, to kindle compassion, and to become more authentic, more real, more holy.
To frame it in a different metaphor, we hold up lenses in front of the eyes of a myopic public bent on rushing from one obligation to another and bid them read the charts. Some lenses work better than others, and each person's prescription ends up a bit different from anyone else's. Christ is not a particular lens so much as the whole set of lenses, inviting us to perceive the truth in the midst of the blurr of living. So ours is to walk more slowly, talk more genuinely, and gently pry your eyelids a bit wider open to see the wonder of God at work in your world.
If there is any hope for transformation, surely it has something to do with this.