Flying Priests and African Deacons


Mel, the prior, an Irishman, took us to the casino to gamble last night. En route he talked re: the missionary activities of the monks. Each weekend 4 or 5 of them fly to the outlying islands of Exuma, Eleuthera, San Salvador, etc., to celebrate liturgy. Some fly in the monastery’s private plane (Bro. Barry Gearman, pilot), others on the Bahamian airline.

Steve asked Mel if this is relaxing. He said no, quite strenuous, because there’s a Saturday evening Mass, then there are Sunday ones, and there’s often the need to pick up or carry people here and there.

What strikes me is the ecclesiological underpinning—the underpinning of ecclesiological assumptions—on which all this depends. Why should a church assume the necessity of a community of North American missionaries (themselves kept viable by infusions from St. John’s) to wear themselves out traveling all over the vicinity on weekends celebrating the liturgy, when surely there would be someone in the local churches (i.e., at the parish level) capable of doing so?

This is a church stuck permanently in the missionary phase, unable to indigenize, not so much because of a dearth of talent (“native vocations”), as because the ecclesiology mandated from/by Rome cannot conceive of empowering local churches via the ordination of those called in the church, but not susceptible to formation in the traditional seminary pattern.

In this sense, then, the problems of the missionary church are also those of long-established churches, such as that of the U.S. These problems have perhaps been thought about more acutely in the missionary setting (e.g., by Vincent Donovan), probably because the disparity, the injustice of “denying” ordination to “natives,” is so glaring here. But they are our problems, too, in the sense that we can’t see how graced married men, openly and actively gay men in committed relationships, and women are—called, gifted for a church that is unable, or better, unwilling, to avail itself of their talents.

So much is staked on a system of seminary formation, and a particular historical view of ministry, that has outlived its usefulness. And so much is so invested, because the church wants power to be centralized, “orderly,” ultimately, in imperial mode.

Nassau, Bahamas 24.5.1993
Flying Priests and African Deacons


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Topics: Bahamas, Mel Taylor

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