Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | April 26, 2011

Is Nothing Sacred?

Once there was Rent-a-Wreck (at least in  New Zealand when I was trying to rent a car a few years back) now there is Rent-a-Priest, or rather Rent-a-Rev. Is nothing sacred? Or perhaps everything is…which is why rent-a-rev is actually the ‘fun’ shop window for the indomitable Mark Townsend – a talented mentalist magician, Druid, and Christian Priest who – tired of the limitations of the Church of England – has started his own ‘Hedge Church’. Is this the last straw or the beginning of a new way of ‘doing’ priesthood? You decide by having a look at Rent-a-Rev here!


Responses

  1. I look at this site and can only think, “Mention this ad for a free blessing. Exorcisms while u wait.” I don’t know what the UK televangelist community is like but in the Americas we’d probably see this as another attempt to grab the attention of potential “customers” with religion/spirituality. Not sacred at all.

  2. I took the “Rent-a-Rev” URL as something humorous, which can be lacking in the spiritual community – particularly in a secular Christian environment (and perhaps sometimes in the Pagan, Druid and Occult environments as well). I have seen other places where Mark’s work is, without the humorous URL, and it seems to me, rather than thinking nothing is sacred – he believes EVERYTHING is sacred. He fills a need of the in-between, those people who cannot be classified as fundamentally Christian/Catholic, but are at the same time uncomfortable with outright Pagan, Occult or Druid clergy, and yet still need services. And I won’t hold it against him that he likes magic tricks either 🙂 Thanks for this post Philip! I realize how this could look like at first what we in America would call a “Las Vegas Drive-Through Wedding” thing! 🙂

    • Humour is such a personal thing but there’s also a cultural component. In the UK we are mercifully spared from much of that trashy commercialised religion (the ‘drive-thru’ as you put it and which I think Chris in the comment before was picking up on!) so we can see Mark’s site as what it was intended to be: a little tongue-in-cheek joke in that English tradition of self-deprecation. What I like about it is that it undermines the traditional image of vicars as pious fellows!

      • 🙂

        Appreciated Philip

  3. Hi Chris,
    Appreciate and understand your thoughts.
    TV evangelists – Jesus! 🙂
    Anyway this is the site I much prefer – http://www.martownsendministry.co.uk – but sadly I had to try a ‘rather tongue-in-cheek’ new title out of necessity 😦
    My hope is that everything is sacred in essence.
    In fact one the biggest reasons why I find Pagan Druidry so liberating (as a Christian) is that it does not make the smae misatke of setting up divisions between the so called ‘sacred and profane.’ Of course ‘profane’ is a bibical concept. Phanos was the holy of holies inside the temple, behind the curtain. Outside it was pro-phanos. Interesting that a major symbol in Christianity was the tearing of the curtain of Jerusalem’s temple. A powerful metaphor for the end of sacred and profane. ALL is now sacred and filled with deity. Interesting how Christians, by and large, never got that one. My work is often called sacreligious or blasphemous, not because of the title ‘rent a rev uk’ (that’s only just been set up) but because I choose to baptise inside pubs, marry inside forests and bless on mountain tops. Na – it’s all sacred, its all beautiful, it’s all life – and life is God/dess.
    Blessings,
    Mark Townsend

  4. Hey Lisa – just read your post.
    Thank you. VERY encouraging that you can tell where my heart is from other stuff. And yes this was supposed to be just ‘fun.’
    However I totally understand where Chris is coming from too, so much sheer religious / spiritual consumerism and (to be frank) ‘conning’ out there, both in the Christian AND Mind Body / New Age world.
    I hope my work never comes across like that.
    Blessings of the shining sun.
    Mark
    /+\

  5. Most of the Churches down under in Australia already do this. They charge for their chapel use. They charge for the priest’s time. They have a minor rule at some churches where you have to be a member of the congregation for a minimum of time. Mark is just Freelance.

    I wish that we lived in a spiritual world. Instead the Western world is in spiritual crisis. Our tradition faith has been eroded and we have little purpose other than as Employees. And being an Employee these days means being disposable.

    At least there are Revs out there like Mark, who are making themselves available. Many Marriage celebrants advertise like this in Australia. A lot are Pagan.

  6. I’d rather not have it come across that I have no sense of humor. I believe humor and satire are important elements in spiritual expression. It’s just that when I see a priest or priestess advertising their services, I can only think of the lack of regulation of who is or isn’t called a priest or priestess.

    If you’ve ever been to Sedona, Arizona (not far from where I am), you’ll see a host of robed figures, channeling gurus, and storefront psychics pitching the same enlightenment. If Mark’s offerings are genuine, and I believe they are, he might want to rethink his approach in letting the public know what he does and why he does it.

  7. This is what the words on the main front page of the site say Chris. Do they give the impression I’m a charlatan? If so I’m very keen to change / edit them. I hoped they were clear. And as I said, the title itself is tonge-in-cheek and was the website of another ex-c of e ‘Indy’ priest. A very lovely man whom I did mention on the webpage. Honestly if you would change the wording, please advise. I really want to get it right:

    Mark is a Freelance Priest who express his ministry in a fully inclusive and ecclectic manner. He served within the Church of England for over a decade but now wishes to offer himself in a broader and more eclectic sense. As an ordained member of The Open Episcopal Church he now offers a refreshingly new approach to traditional church services and ceremonies.

    Mark has over ten years experience of creating and performing special ceremonies for people. He does not see them as opportunities to push religion or evangelise but, rather, to meet people where they were and enable them to truly express what they need to through these important rites of passage.

    Mark sees what he does as bridging the gap between strictly religious ceremonies and those offered by Secular Humanism. They are always spiritual yet not always overtly religious. As someone with a generously eccletic spiritual experience Mark draws upon his own Christian heritage as well the wealth of traditions from outside the boundaries of the Church.

    Over time Mark has realised that many people see themselves as spiritual (and believers in God / Goddess / Spirit) yet cannot equate their natural inner faith with official religion. When such people are faced with (for example) the trauma of having to plan a funeral for a member of their family, and are wondering who to invite to perform the ceremony, they often think there are only two alternatives: a formal Minister of Religion or a Humanist. Some opt for the latter but, during the planning of the funeral, realise that they do in fact want some prayers or even a hymn. It is for these folk particularly that he offers his services.

    • That’s just it, Mark. You’re advertising it on a website. Why? What sets your mission apart from other priests/priestesses who advertise their services so blatantly? Please don’t put this in my lap. This is your decision – I just have to question why you would even publish a website for it in the first place. You want people to know who you are and what you do? Lead by example – not websites.

  8. Point Taken Chris.
    Just let me ask though, you’re a Harpist.
    How do you let people know about your gifts / services?
    Ever used a website?
    Just wondering that’s all.
    Mark

    • Advertising harp music is not the same as advertising being a conduit to the Divine. Commercialization of religion is a matter of ethics.

      • Sorry, Chris, I totally have to disagree with this take. I am a Celtic Harpist, and the “Bard” in my title is a religious designation–and every single time I play the Harp, in any venue whatsoever, I do it for the Lady. I resent greatly your implication that advertisement of one’s services is unethical, whether they are musical services or services of ministry. “Religion” has become a trap and a stumbling-block for many–I love and appreciate Mark’s willingness to meet people on their own sacred ground, wherever it is, knowing that all ground is sacred. “Commercialization of religion” and letting people know there are open-hearted and open-minded clergy out there who are able and willing to lead them to Deity without shibboleth are two different things entirely. YMMV, and if so, I am sorry you feel that way. Angels can fly, because they know how to lighten up…

  9. That’s just a silly UK joke by the way.
    I DO see where you’re coming from mate, just very hard to let what you do be known without the use of some sort of computer / internet help these days. Wish is ws different. But I think just about every spiritual practitioner / teacher you can think of has a web site (often along with massive behind the scenes marketing machine) to promote them. Think of your top five voices of spiritual inspiration and my guess is they have websites.
    But – as I keep saying – I totally appreciate and understand where you’re coming from here my friend.
    Blessings from across the pond,
    Mark

    • Oddly enough, music in my experience is most definitely a “conduit” to the divine. Another conduit to the divine is our communication with each other (even on the websites of spiritual leaders…like the one we’re on right now). 😀

      I don’t buy/sell spirituality and I do have a personal issue with love and spirituality being for sale. I have an even greater personal issue with spiritual window shoppers and mall-goers.

      But, blessings to Mark for being willing to fill a spiritual void. I don’t advertise my services at all, but have been quite honored to offer the catharsis of spiritual ceremony/rites for those who seek it in my community. The spiritual crises of people around the world seem to demand our involvement, whether it is sending the vibrant strains of a harp or the humble incantations and blessings of a priest/ess across the internets.

      In the Light,
      Morgaine

  10. A quick thanks to Philip for posting this – it brightened my day to see this approach to ceremonies. A great option for people who want a sense of tradition/formality without having to set a foot in any particular camp. Maybe Rent-a-Rev does sound a little irreverent… but I think a little humor puts a lot of humanity into faith, and, from my point of view, that’s a good thing!

  11. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I appreciate that. However, I live in an area where so-called spiritualists are a dime a dozen and they are all after one thing – the almighty (insert currency type here). You have to understand how numbing it is to see another person do it. I don’t see many, if any reputable ministers advertise their services like this. I do not include things like books, jewelry, or another means of raising funds for a ministry – but full-on advertising of the act of ritual is something I don’t personally believe is ethical.

    As far as music. I don’t claim to be a bard. My community claims it. The photos I have with my harp aren’t even there to sell anything because I don’t play professionally. I play for myself and with friends who gather for seisiuns. So watch the judgement, please.

  12. Quote: “Commercialization of religion is a matter of ethics.”

    Chris, would you take issue with OBOD charging for their courses?

    • Raincloud: I feel the course is an educational investment. I saw it that way through the entire time I was a student, up until the time I graduated from the OBOD program.

  13. I agree the name ‘Rent A Rev’ conjures up an idea that is hard to take seriously, but having seen his picture and read his web-site I think he has a good ‘vibe’. He will appeal to former religious christians and others who feel their spirituality as now very personal and are not inclined to find another religion. I think this is another example of our diverse land becoming less religious but more spiritual ands hurrah for that.

    Shaun.

  14. I note that the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop of Canterbury have websites. Letting the world know you’re here and available isn’t tacky in itself.

    Making a living from your ministry isn’t tacky either – I only wish more people were doing what they truly love for a living (given that we are currently stuck with an economy).

    Making a living by being a con artist is tacky and wrong.

    Making a living by exploiting others is tacky and wrong.

    Saying, “This is who I am, what my background is, and what I do. If you are interested, I can give you more info”, is just being professional. On Mark Townsend’s site, I see no exhortations to buy, no pressure to pay, just a clean, simple, “Here is what I do, and here is what people say about the experience.”

    After all, not doing what we are called to do, whether it’s gardening or cleaning the street or therapy or making music or helping people through rites of passage, is a damn shame (come the revolution..!). In a perfect world, we’d all be answering our call to service in whatever form it comes.

    In making judgments about ethics, we need to be careful, particularly around spiritual services. I used to believe it was plain WRONG to taint spiritual services with money. Then I realised that most other traditions have systems in place for payment because without payment (and other support) spiritual ministers simply can’t do their thing full or part time, unless they’re from a privileged background. And I realised it was part of the “spirit good, material bad” mode of looking at the world. Over the years, I saw many Pagan clergy burn out from working full time, raising families, AND working to support their communities for free on top of it all.

    It’s not fair to expect people to give and give without support, and financial support in terms of asking for reasonable payment (neither underselling nor overselling – a tough line to walk) for services can mean freeing someone up to really answer their calling in the world; not dealing with this reality often means that people either scrape by and burn out, martyring themselves to the cause of spiritual purity, or tip over into a desperate headlong rush to make more and more money.

    We urgently need to get off our high horses and examine our relationships with the material world, our attitudes to consumption and payment, and tease out where our biases and prejudices, fears and true needs can be identified and weighed.

    The fact that it’s a hot button issue clearly demonstrates that this is an important area to examine, and the importance of doing so prayerfully and with a willingness to listen and be vulnerable.

  15. I’ve been very encouraged and affirmed by everyone’s comments here. Thank you all.

    As one who has had a long term hang up over any idea of financial value with regard to the services I try to offer, this thread has been a real blessing. Even as a stipendary parish priest I hated dealing with anything to do with money. And now that I’m self-supporting its worse. But there’s absolutely no way I could survive by doing what I do totally for free. Thus I have to see a small part of it as renumerative.

    You’ll notice (on my more serious website http://www.marktownsendministry.co.uk) that the only place I mention ‘donations’ (within the namings section) that I stress I would do it for free if a family were struggling.

    I have to say that I have also really valued Chris’s thoughts because they’ve properly challenged me and helped me to re-think things to the point where I’ve now chosen to re-do my Rent a Rev website, giving it a far more obviously ‘tongue-in-cheek’ feel.

    Thank you all again and many blessings.
    Mark


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