On (Maybe One Day) Being a Parish Priest in Trump’s America

I found the Referendum vote of 2016 difficult.

I found it difficult not only because of the divisions in British society it exposed, and the way it marginalised immigrants and the ethical issues of freedom (of goods, of labour, of services, and of capital) which were encapsulated in the foundations of the European Union.

I found it difficult because of the response I saw from clergy who I love, respect, and admire.

Clergy in an Anglican tradition are parochial. This means they are sent by a Bishop to provide ministry to every single person who lives in their Parish. In my interpretation of that ministry, the clergy ought at all times be seen as accessible and compassionate to all people of the Parish – otherwise the Priest may well lose the trust of the Parishioner. Can a Parishioner believe a Priest will provide them with ministry if the Parishioner knows the Priest considers some of their opinions tantamount to grievous sin?

As I watched clergy on various different sides of the debate expound their views, I began to realise how important it would be for my ministry as a Parish Priest to remain as relationally open as possible. This means not placing an unnecessary stumbling block between a Parishioner and their hearing of the Gospel.

I decided at that point that I would not share my opinion in a public forum on matters of national or international politics or other such things as would represent mutually exclusive opinions. My job, at least I hope as will be discerned, as a Priest would be to provide ministry to all people and so I would not want to distance someone even though I might find their opinions repugnant.

Living in Trump’s America makes such a nonpartisan conviction very difficult.

Now, I have not suddenly decided to reverse my previous position simply because many things Trump and those who support him have said directly challenge Christian virtue. No, I have thought more deeply about what it could mean to be a Priest to a Parish.

I live in a wonderful shared house in Annapolis. This is the closest thing I have to a Parish – a community of people I share a common life with to some extent.

One of my housemates, one of my Parishioner if you will, is a Syrian refugee.

The policy of placing a hiatus on all immigration from Middle Eastern countries directly affects him and people like him. In this way, this issue of national politics has literally stepped through my front door.

In other words, the Trump immigration policy isn’t simply a moral issue to be combated by the placed to fight the moral crusades in the area of public discourse. No, Trump’s immigration policy is an assault against the validity, dignity, and suffering of my housemate. If I am discerning a call, and being formed for, Parish ministry then I have to begin taking account of the struggles of the lives of my most immediate neighbours.

Lord willing I will one day stand in front of a Bishop who will charge me saying:

…it is the Deacon’s Office to work with the laity in searching for the sick, the poor, and the helpless, that they may be relieved.

He will ask me

Will you show yourself gentle, and be merciful for the sake of Christ, to poor and needy people and to all those in need of help?

Well shoot. I have in my own house someone who has been placed in need by people and powers far bigger than I, that I had hoped to avoid passing comment on as much as possible for the sake of being a better servant and minister to all my neighbours. The Refugees are helpless–have been made helpless by this Administration.

For the sake of what I hope and pray will be my vocation, I must rethink how I am going to engage.

Indeed how will I respond if it turns out some things from this Administration help and uplift some of my neighbours who are currently marginalised by the dominant neoliberal paradigm? I still do not think it appropriate for a local minister – one who is sent to serve a particular community – should make grand proclamations about this or that issue. Yet the calling of a Deacon and Priest in the Anglican tradition requires me to aid in the relief of all those who are sick, poor, and helpless in my own community. 

I hope, and I ask you to pray with me, to one day be asked by the Bishop to show myself gentle and merciful to the poor, needy, and all in need of help. And I will have to say on that day, as I say now,

I will with God’s help.

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