Monday, 12 September 2016

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 693 12 September 16 PRIESTS FOR SALE!

Order a priest online! Delivered straight to your doorstep, robed, wearing his full pontificals. To do weddings or funerals or baptisms or…whatever. Download the App! Coming soon!

Actually, in Japan it has already arrived. Buddhist priests and their services are obtainable on Amazon, on payment of a fee. It has angered the official authorities. Unacceptable ‘commodification of religion…offensive to the Buddha’, they protest. This priest (once a Zen master) might sympathise. Although I wonder…could the Buddhist establishment be worried about its own lolly? Something to do with fear of competition, eh? Human, all too human…

Could it happen here, in unhappy Ukania, too? Why not? Not all priests have to embrace holy poverty, like St Francis. Anglican clergy for example already get money. Paid by the Church Commissioners. They thus serve (seemingly contrary to Christ’s injunction) both God and Mammon. What’s wrong with some clerics going freelance and advertising themselves on Amazon?

A priest should conform himself to Christ, you’ll object. Christ did not charge people for his ministry. He was poor. But what does that mean? Absolutely poor he was not. Was he not followed about by his Apostles and by holy women, who surely looked after his material needs? So his poverty was relative. Anyway, the proposition that Christ was poor in an absolute sense was plugged by medieval heretics and the Church condemned it.

Moreover, ‘The Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel’, says St Paul (I Corinthians 9:14). The point is that pastors must have material support if they are to be free to preach and teach. God made such provisions for Hebrew priests under the Old Law, St Paul rightly invokes that example. Although Paul, like many Jewish rabbis, had a trade – he was a tentmaker – he was not afraid of telling the Christians at Corinth that it was their duty to support him and St Barnabas. ‘Who ever goes to war at his own expense?’ he pointedly asked. Ditto for those who fight a greater, spiritual warfare.

Buddhist clergy in Japan are in demand chiefly for funerals. Their Amazon freelancers undercut their fees, hence their establishment colleagues’ ire.  Similarly the Church of England would loathe and abominate rival priests who conducted a funeral for less than their fixed £ 178 fee. Or a marriage for less than 415 quid. But should one pay for a sacrament? Isn’t that akin to the grave sin of simony – the buying and selling of spiritual privileges?  However, mainline Anglican doctrine does not consider weddings and funerals as sacraments of the Gospel. That is why there is no fee for a baptismal service – only a donation is suggested.

It would be interesting to know what the Muslim position is. Could one order an imam online? Would he draw the line at certain things? I mean, would his fee override some religious obligations? I know a rabbi who refused to do a bar mitzvah for an arrogant and powerful tycoon’s son, because of certain non-kosher requirements by the father. Despite the rich man’s financial allurement. My hat off to you, good rebbe!

Is it the coldness of the technology that offends? But why? ‘Go ye into the world and tweet the Gospel’, Anglican Canon Scott Gunn urges. He makes a Biblical case for using the social media. Well, why can’t popular e-retailer Amazon also be likewise employed? Ordinary people in Britain’s secular society hate to darken a church’s door. They don’t know what to do, how to behave inside. It is so strange, so intimidating, so alien! They might as well be in a Buddhist temple. And they are put out by stuffy and pompous Vicars. The Amazon app – renting a friendly sky pilot online - would be so easy. And cheaper? Why not then?

In fact, there is no reason why an Amazon priest should restrict himself to the tried Anglican trio of ‘hatch, match and dispatch’. He could offer a range, a variety of diverse services. House blessing is an obvious one. Spiritual counselling another. Confession? Thrilling, no?

But it can get darker. Take exorcism. Possession by evil spirits or the devil. A priest knows how to cast them out. Weird? But that is a spiritual practice sanctioned by the highest possible authority – Jesus Christ himself. When he walked the earth the Son of God exorcised demoniacs. The most critical biblical scholars agree on this point. Even the lukewarm C of E has diocesan exorcists.  Because a priest, as an alter Christus, has the authority and the power to do that. And there is so much sin around in British society – surely the Evil One and his minions are at work inside men? Methinks Amazon exorcists would do a roaring trade!

Or take cursing. Sanctioned by the Commination Service in Cranmer’s wonderful Prayer Book. Few liberal Anglican Vicars would touch it. A bit too retro, fanatical, eh? But an Amazon clergyman would have few scruples to use it. It would be efficacious – God willing. Just imagine how many evil folks around deserve a well-aimed, whopping curse. Like having a spiritual Tomahawk missile aimed at their evil hearts.  Could Tony Blair be got that way?

This is a window of opportunity. As well as a gold mine. Besides, it would annoy the Anglican Church a lot. That clinches it. Rent a priest!

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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