THE SPECIES,AND WHY
why the calling of the worker-priest represents a valid element within the ordained ministry
First identified in the 1st century AD (cf. Paul, tent maker, self-supporting). Habitat badly damaged by the Constantine Accommodation and the bureaucratisation and professionalisation of ministry.
Thought extinct in Western Christendom. Small RC colonies spotted in France in the 1940s. Environment remained hostile to expansion. Cross-breeding of necessity and theology resulted in various sub-strains within the Church of England, from the 1970s, including unpaid, self-supporting clergy whose focus is the traditional parish ('hobbyist" clergy as at least one bishop unkindly likes to describe them) to the more rare em-ess-ees (MSEs - Ministers in Secular Employment) who seek to embody the office of priest, and to serve the Church and God's world, by a ministry expressed - often surreptitiously - within the so-called 'secular' world of the working man and woman. Expressed surreptitiously, obliquely, covertly, with the outward signs of the Office neither hidden nor promoted.
Various names have been used for clergy with a primary, vocational focus on their paid work in the so-called secular world: worker priests, ministers in secular employment (MSE), Bi-vocational ministers, Tent-making Ministers. By definition they tend not to be paid or housed by the church and, alas, official descriptions often emphasise this rather worldly preoccupation with pay: non-stipendiary ministers (NSM), auxiliary ministers and the now more common CofE term Self-Supporting Minister (SSM) - an inelegant phrase as well as theologically dubious (which of us is truly self-supporting without God's grace and one another?).
A couple of definitions from NASSAM (USA-based National Association for the Self Supporting Active Ministry, founded in 1971 and dissolved in 2016)
Fundamentally, the underlying theology of all manifestations of MSE/worker-priest ministry is one of solidarity and identification. This is as irresistibly clear and powerful a purpose to those called to it as it is incomprehensible or merely weird to those who are not. It is quite different to models of chaplaincy to x, y and z. It seeks to overcome the separation that exists between 'the church' (conceived of as the institution) and the world of work. It seeks to serve the church - as institution and more importantly as the wider, mystical body of Christ.
"The dilemma of the church in this transitional time is that the shells of the old structures still surround us even though many of them no longer work. Some of the structures are institutions, some are roles, some are mind-sets and expectations. At one moment they mediate grace to us and at the next they block and confuse us. Sometimes some of them actually support and nourish us, while others get in the way of the new structures we need."
"All of life is spiritual, for all is part of God's creation. There is no division between sacred and secular, work and worship, religion and politics. Spirituality is not apart from our daily life; it is our daily lives. But it is a life with a cutting edge not avoiding the pain and fear."
Alan Ecclestone; Priest b1904, d1992
"The Holy See holds that it is not essential to the apostolate in the worker milieu to send priests as workers there, and that it is not possible to sacrifice the handed down view of priesthood for this purpose..The priest is ordained essentially for the practice of sacral functions: to offer God the holy Eucharist and the public prayer of the church, to minister the sacraments to the faithful, and to preach the word of God... He [sic] gives this testimony [of Christ's resurrection] above all by preaching the word, and not by manual working among factory hands, as if they were his peers. What is more, the Holy See holds that working in a factory or on a building site is incompatible with the priestly life and its obligations.."