Parish Priests

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Conventionally, we talk about the Universal Church as being composed of five sects - the Urth Orthodoxy, the Sanctuary Aeon, the Eskatonic Order, the Brother Battle and the Temple Avesti - and they all have a similar sort of existence in our head. They have specialties - the Brother Battle fight, the Amaltheans heal, the Orthodoxy politick - but they operate on the same 'faction-level' existence of being among the elites of the Known Worlds.

This isn't entirely true, however, because the Church extends deep into the population in a way the nobility or the largely urban guilds do not. A Rank 9 nobleman is a Earl, ruling hundreds of thousands of souls, a Rank 9 guilder a director, running a company of regional or planetary significance, but a Rank 9 cleric is just an ordained priest, and there is a local priest in every village.

Who are these priests? From what sect are they drawn? What relationship do they have to Amalthean nuns or Eskatonic wizards we are familiar with, to the Brother Battle warrior-monks or the scheming Orthodox canons we know?

Types of Priest and Pastoral Responsibilities

Almost all parish priests are nominally of the Urth Orthodox sect, regardless of the sect of their bishop or archbishop. Running a parish is a job unlike most others - the parish priest is part community leader, part counselor, part administrator, part landowner and part judge in his local community. Parish priests are almost always trained in the parish, or in some cases at a local monastery for which the parish is a benefice. They spend their novitiate as altar boys and the like, and then take on increasing administrative and liturgical responsibilities as canons and deacons before they ordained, at which point they likely spend a period of time as a curate - an assistant pastor - before he becomes the principal priest of the parish. Curates are sometimes deacons but often full priests, and in addition to assisting a priest in a large village church he could instead as the only priest of a smaller parish church in a dependent hamlet.

Parish priests come in two sorts - some are rectors, which is to say that they hold the parish and the church in their own right, and others are vicars, meaning that they have been deputized by the local bishop or by a local monastery to hold the parish in the name of that higher ecclesiastic authority. Vicar can be a confusing title - it is also (and often) the title used for an archpriest, often the rector of a large village (1000+ population) church who in turn is given supervisory responsibilities over the pastors of the smaller hamlet-sized parishes surrounding.

Parish priests are chosen by several different methods. In many communities, the parish priesthood essentially exists by de facto succession - the current priest chooses an assistant, who in turn becomes parson when the current priest retires or dies. Indeed, in many cases priesthood runs in families ('Priest' is a not uncommon surname), and a pastor is succeeded by a nephew or even in a son - most parish priests are of the White Priesthood, which does not require a vow of celibacy (though see below). Such a succession needs to be ratified by the local bishop, who officially holds the power to appoint priests, but bishops are rarely concerned with the occupants of local parishes unless they are particularly important, are in the territory of a lord the bishop is engaged with or if the parish is the seat of a non-residential cathedral canon.

In other communities, parish priests are chosen by the local lord, by the lesser priests and deacons of the church (a consistory), or even by the village elders or some other representative body of the community. When formalized, the right of choosing the occupant of a parish is called 'advowson', and it is a right often granted by bishops in exchange for some political benefit at a level that never affects the local parish - making local parishes chips, essentially, in a larger political game. Often, however, the formal right of advowson isn't granted, and instead the privilege of it are merely granted by tradition to some other body and is still subject officially to the bishop's assent. Even the right of advowson still acknowledges that it is the bishop who chooses the parish priest; arguing that the bishop does not have that right is a schismatic heresy called 'corporatism' or 'congregationalism' depending on its severity. This does not, of course, stop some parishes - particularly those that have long held advowson through tradition - to advocate that the tradition has made that right theirs in legal fact.

Sects and Parish Priests

As mentioned above, parish priests are almost universally Orthodox, regardless of the sect of their bishop or archbishop. This is partly practical - the other sects all undergo specialized training of some sort which makes them rarer and more useful than service as a parish priest. Additionally, the other sects mostly have a monastic tradition, which takes comfort in spiritual brotherhood and is thus anithetical to parish service.

Because parish priests are so often drawn from their communities, sect - whether theirs or that or that of their bishop - doesn't much matter to them. The Orthodoxy just provides a 'default' framework for the religious training of a priest, but parish priests are loyal to their parish first and their bishop second. They aren't members of the Orthodox sect in the same way that a political temple priest might be.

Orthodox tradition has two orders of priesthood, the White Priesthood and the Red Priesthood. The Red Priesthood is the more political and more monastic tradition - red priests typically come up in monasteries or in city cathedrals, and much of their time as a novice, canon or deacon is spent in the company of other priests, with the outside world viewed as a temptation that they are gradually introduced to. The White Priesthood, by contrast, is a 'secular' tradition in the sense that they do not hold to monastic rules. For instance, there is no neccessary requirement that White Priests take vows of celibacy, though tradition and/or local rules often specify that they do, or that if they marry they do so before they are ordained as a full priest.

Some Red Priests do serve as parish priests, but this is rare - usually only because the parish in question is dependent on a monastery, which sends one of its priests to supervise, or because the parish has political importance and the priest is there to serve that political end. In the latter case, usually there is a White Priest present as well as a curate to see to the parish's day-to-day needs. 'Political' appointments often can cause resentment in local communities, as Red Priests are more likely to be of noble birth and thus serve less as community leaders and more as community rulers. Still, they are very common, particularly as a way to reward priests with an income - though in such cases, they are often absentee parsons, with a local assistant doing most of the actual work.

The White Priesthood produces by far and away the majority of parish priests, however - indeed, it is so prevalent in parishes that its black working cassock and white liturgical vestments are the 'de facto' priestly dress. Priests of all sects and priesthoods - even in urban areas - wear black shirts and white Roman collars as a way to avoid working robes, articles of clothing drawn directly from the White Priesthood vestments.

The majority of bishops and archbishops are Orthodox, even when they are not the parish priests are still generally Orthodox priests - though they are heavily influenced by the sect that controls their parish. Amalthean dioceses are almost entirely all White Priests, and many of them learn the basics of the Compassionate Ethics as well as some practical skills at healing in addition to their standard canon, though they are by no means physicks of Amalthean skill. Parish priests in Eskatonic dioceses tend to be liberal and much more egalitarian, while parish priests in Brother Battle tend to be more austere, spending less money in the parishes and sending more up to the local monastery for the support of the brothers. Local priests in the few Avesti dioceses are often quite conservative, and the Avesti are one of the few sects that send retired pilgrims to serve as parish priests.