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Hallo again to all.

Theodore Roosevelt's pew in the Church of Saint Nicholas, New York CityNot long ago, we were at a mostly-clerical gathering where talk turned quickly — as it always does — to national church matters, matters diocesan, parish matters and matters liturgical. As people with a relatively high tolerance for this kind of conversation, indeed whose own concerns run in many of the same channels, this was a refreshing change from water-cooler chat at the office. It was largely about matters of common interest, even though we are not ordained. As the night went on, however, we began to notice the words muggle and muggles flying through the air with unusual rapidity, even for a group composed of many Harry Potter fans. It did not take long to parse out from context that the priests in that particular group were using muggles to refer to laypeople, and that the conversation really had nothing to do with J.K. Rowling's wildly popular books.

According to the ever-trusty Wikipedia,

Muggle is a term from the fictional Harry Potter series of books that refers to a human who is a member of the non-magical community. [...] At times, wizards use the term muggle to indicate a person with little or no imagination, who is afraid of magic and any other kinds of phenomenon and who, in their fear, belittles or scoffs at anything they don't understand. J. K. Rowling said she created the word "muggle" from "mug", an English term for someone who is easily fooled. She added the "-gle" to make it sound less demeaning. The term has found its way into more common English usage by those in small specialized groups to refer to those outside the group. This sense comes from the fact that the magical people in the Harry Potter universe are far outnumbered by the muggles.

We suspect that in an ante-Rowling world another term might have been used: pew-warmer, dullard, sacristy rat or what have you. The etymological issues are not of real concern to us just now (muggle has indeed made its way into the OED), but the clericalist attitude is. If there is any human community in which the notion of mugglehood is unacceptable, it must without doubt be the Church of God, the blessed company of all faithful people, where we bear one another's burdens and love each other without respect to clerical or lay status. Ordination is not magic, and laypeople are not easily fooled; the translation of this creative fictional concept into ecclesiastical life works even less well on further examination than it does at first disturbing encounter.

A click at our staff page shows a gallery of lay Anglicans, none of whom lays claim to magical powers, and none of whom has been ordained to the church's ministry. Like most Christians everywhere throughout time and in the present, we have been baptised, confirmed, shriven, married, communicated and careful to attend and participate in the church's regular worship; we do not wear vestments, but this does not make us any less complete members of the church. A church that indulges in clericalism to the point of relegating the non-ordained to a second- or third-rate status is not taking its own sacramental formularies seriously.

We have written before about the Blessed Order of the Laity, that group to which we all belong as card-carrying, paid-up members. We were reminded of its real dignity and blessedness day by day over the last week as we read the emails that poured in in response to our news about one of our editors undergoing serious emergency surgery. From her hospital bed, people from around the globe were called to prayer — people who will never meet one another, but who have their faith, hope and love in common along with another member of the Body of Christ. It was a beautiful, moving and wonderful experience to know in cyber-time of the pain, strength, support, peace and care of so many of you even as one member of the body found herself in the midst of an extremely difficult trial.

This is not the way muggles behave; it is the way Christians behave when they love one another. Unless we banish the very concept of mugglehood in all of its names from the vocabulary of every corner of church life, the real joy, the real goodness and wholeness of a Christian community united in common concern and work will elude us. Among all the matters facing our communion, this is among the most unmentioned and most urgent.

Please keep praying for Cynthia and Frederic; her chemotherapy for atypical lymphoma begins this week.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 12 March 2006

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