What is the Ministry of a Priest?
You can look to the Book of Common Prayer for the best short overview available. On page 856, the Catechism says, “The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.” It is important to notice that the first part of the description overlaps exactly with what everyone is called to in ministry – to represent Christ and his Church.
People who are not priests also do the work of pastoring to people, working with the bishop in administering and overseeing the Church, proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments. The particular ministry of priests and bishops is to declare pardon in the name of God. Given all of these overlaps, a priest must be someone who works well with many other people in all of their various responsibilities and gifts. In working with other people, priests must be good at listening, inviting, handling rejection, teaching and presenting their faith with authenticity and practice. The daily work is full of variety, joy, disappointments and good surprises.
And because it is impossible to sum up the ministry of a priest in one paragraph, make sure you talk several priests to hear about how they perceive what it is to be a priest.
The Rev. George D. Smith, Rector
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Glen Ellyn, IL
To learn more about qualifications the Diocese of Chicago is seeking, download the “What We’re Looking for in a Priest” resource in English and Spanish. An overview and timeline of the ordination process are also available.
For more information about the ordination process, please contact Louisa McKellaston at 312.751.4214.
Earning a Living as a Priest
The ministry of a priest can be done anywhere. But finding a job where you will be paid to do the work of a priest is not always easy.
If you are exploring the priesthood, it is important to also consider also how you will earn a living in your vocation. Jesus saves us from our sins, but not from our utility bills. Be realistic about the burden of seminary debt in your financial future. Be realistic about retirement planning, especially if you are discerning ordained ministry in your forties, fifties, or sixties. Be realistic about your willingness (and your partner or family’s willingness) to move across the country if you don’t find a position in the Diocese of Chicago or the geographic area of your choice.
There are a limited number of paid positions in congregational ministry, especially in the Diocese of Chicago. Jobs are competitive here; many priests are seeking full- and part-time positions in the churches of northern Illinois, especially in the Chicago area. More and more churches can afford to pay a priest only a part-time salary, which is not enough of an income to live on. Assistant positions are becoming scarce.
An increasing number of priests practice what is sometimes referred to as a “bi-vocational ministry,” earning some of their living as a priest, but a significant portion through work in another field in which they are also guided by the promises of the Baptismal Covenant.