Living on the Border of the Holy

Renewing the Priesthood of All

L. William Countryman

Dec/1998, 224 Pages, PAPERBACK, 6 x 9

ISBN-13: 9780819217738



"The first thing to say in our exploration of priesthood is this: priesthood is a fundamental and inescapable part of being human. All human beings, knowingly or not, minister as priests to one another. All of us, knowingly or not, receive priestly ministrations from one another. Unless we begin here, we are not likely to understand the confusions and uncertainties and opportunities we have been encountering in the life of the church itself in recent years. We shall be in danger, in fact, of creating makeshift solutions to half-understood problems, easy answers to misleading questions, temporary bandages for institutions that need to be healed from the ground up."—L. William Countryman

There is a lot of tension in churches today about whose ministry is primary-that of the laity or of the clergy. L. William Countryman argues that we can only resolve that problem by seeing that we are all priests simply by virtue of being human and living, as we all do, on the mysterious and uncertain border with the Holy. Living on the Border of the Holy offers a way of understanding the priesthood of the whole people of God and the priesthood of the ordained in complementary ways by showing how both are rooted in the fundamental priestly nature of human life. After an exploration of the ministry of both laity and ordained, Countryman concludes by examining the implications of this view of priesthood for churches and for educating those studying for ordination.



L. William Countryman has authored numerous books for scholars and laity. He is a retired professor of New Testament from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

"What a blessing to have at hand William Countryman's book, which, by disentangling ordination from real ministry, does an extraordinary job of clarifying what we mean when we speak of the church, of religion, and of God. I wish every self-identified 'person of faith' could read this remarkable, thought-provoking book."
—Bruce Bawer, author of Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

"You may not think of yourself as a priest and you may be in some doubt about what it means when others use the label. But by the time you have finished reading Bill Countryman's work you will have discovered that you are one. You will have learned something about the joys and perils of serving as one. And you will have captured a glimpse of what it means to live "on the border of the Holy." "As a culture, we are more than a little lost. We are drawn to an encounter with the Holy, but we find it easy to shun its demands. We sporadically search for guidance, but we are suspicious of religion and religious leaders. We are drawn to God, but we are repelled by those who call themselves believers. As a church we are not much better off. We lose the encounter with the holy in an endless wrangle over rules. We have shed the clericalized and authoritarian definitions of ordination, but we have no clear alternative at our disposal. And we worship with no clear sense of its relationship to the greater realities it reflects. Bill Countryman cuts through our malaise without being simplistic or obscure, grounding his vision in the larger priesthood of humanity."
—Frederick W. Schmidt, Canon Educator, Washington National Cathedral, and author of A Still Small Voice

"This is a magnificent book. It comes out of scholarship, prayer and experience, distilled over many years. It is written with a freshness and a vitality that make it a delight to read. But it is more than that: it is a prophetic book which touches us all in the depths of our shared, universal humanity. It is a book which crosses boundaries, between clerical and lay, between church and world, between word and image. It will take its readers into the dangerous, exhilarating, life-giving border lands of human existence. I hope that as many readers as possible will embark on this journey for if they do they will gain something of enormous significance."
—Esther de Waal, Author of Living with Contradiction

"For anyone struggling with how to live in the thin places between heaven and earth, Dr. Countryman's brilliant book offers hope, companionship, and the fruits of years of experience. His theory of a 'fundamental human priesthood' gives us all a compassionate guide to follow as we enter the borderlands and it should help end the division between clergy and laity. Countryman's human priesthood leads us into the future, where God calls us to be. This book could save the church."
—Nora Gallagher, Author of Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith

"Thought-provoking and challenging..."
Anglican World

" his magnificent new book, Countryman contends against cultural patterns that persistently see clergy today as the "real," the "serious" and even the "graduate" Christians. Countryman's analysis reminds us of the need to engage stronger biblical and theological foundations for claiming authority for all people of God."
—Frederica Harris Thompsett, for The WITNESS

"A good reader without seminary background or wide-reading in theology or New Testament could enjoy this book's rich, comprehensible references and quotations from a variety of biblical, traditional and contemporary sources. Any congregation thinking about ministry holistically would value this book, as would anyone thinking about ordination or helping in the discernment of another's felt call to ordination. And an intelligent inquirer trying to make sense of emerging experience of God and how ordained ministry and sacraments live to serve that experience of God would enjoy and profit from this book. It is a serious theological work in very accessible language. I read reread it with pleasure, pen in hand."
—Donald Schell, as printed in OPEN, Journal of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, Summer 1999

"Drawing on hiw years of ministry, study, and experience, Countryman offers his practical wisdom to both clergy and laity as they serve God together."
Episcopal Life, July/August 2000

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  • Lay Ministry
  • Meditations
  • Ministry
  • Preisthood
  • Ordination

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