Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Curate and Curator

A curate is a person who is invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish. In this sense "curate" correctly means a parish priest but in English-speaking countries a curate is more often an assistant to the parish priest or rector.  A curator (from Latin: cura meaning "care") is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. The object of a traditional curator's concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort, whether it be inter alia artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections. So says Wiki...

We Lutherans don't talk much about a curate and we would probably instinctively bristle at the idea that a Pastor is a curator.  I think, however, that our instincts might be wrong here.  First of all, whether you are a rector or senior pastor or solo pastor or assistant pastor or associate pastor, it would seem quite obvious that the person invested with this office is likewise invested with the care or cure of the souls in the congregation or a particular place.  We generally speak more about seelsorger than a curate but it stands to reason that both flow from the same idea and ideal.

Now anyone who has been involved in the great debate between maintenance and mission would recognize that calling a Lutheran Pastor a curator seems to imply that the Pastor is there to care for the status quo -- read the comments on this blog a few posts ago.  Who would want to be labelled a curator or to be thought of as a caretaker for old things or for a collection of things?  Not I, you might think.  But I am comfortable with that term.  We as Pastors are indeed curators.  We are the local and divinely appointed shepherds, overseers, and bishops of the souls and flock entrusted to our care (Biblical).  We care for them with the divinely instituted tools of the means of grace (Word and Sacraments).

We are also curators of the doctrine or faith once for all delivered to the saints and written down in time in the Scriptures and to which our Confessions are faithful expositions.  We are not innovators or inventors but are called to faithfully preach, teach, confess, and proclaim the once for all faith. We are not free to adjust the Word of the Lord or adapt it to the times.  We are there to speak in local language and to local circumstance that which does not ever change.  The legacy of the saints in creed and confession is not some muzzle to prevent us from speaking  but the bit to guide us that we may continue to speak what God has always spoken (is this not "catholic?").

We are also curators of the means of grace -- not as guides to show people what to watch but as those who equip the people to receive what God has placed there by speaking the Word of Christ, by absolving the penitent, and by presiding at the Table and font of the Lord.  We are not curates for antiquated and irrelevant religious things but curates to whom this stewardship of the mysteries has been given and whose curating proclaims these mysteries so that the called and gathered may receive with faith all that Christ offers to His people there.

The whole thing sounds rather pedantic and pedestrian.  It is much more romantic and exciting to be an entrepreneur, an inventor, an innovator... Whatever you might call us, we are tempted to make it about us when the whole point of a curate and who role of curator is not about them at all but about those to whom God has placed us to serve as curates and the means of grace and faithful confession that we are curators of and for.  Who are those in Rome who are to maintain the faith?  We call them curia.  Who are those in parishes throughout the world whose calling it is to care for the people of God with the things of God (means of grace)?  The curates.  What do we call this divinely established role and function (in addition to the office itself)?  The curator.  The whole thing may be a matter of semantics but I think the fact that we are uncomfortable with this old word and concept says a great deal about state of the church today.  What about YOU?


John said...

I don't get the maintenance/mission debate of which you speak.

The local congregation (the flock) issues a divine call to a Pastor (Shepherd) to be responsible for the spiritual tending of the flock that called him.

The congregation to which I belonged when I was a youth had a Board of Evangelism and a Board of Missions. These boards carried out their work with pastoral guidance. The system worked well.

I cannot fathom how a shepherd, fulfilling his Divine Call by first tending his flock is 'merely' being involved in maintenance.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

This is a very interesting blog post, Pastor. The trend in museums in recent years is in fact to put their treasures on public display in the finest possible way, in as attractive a way as possible, with interactive displays, extensive explanations, engaging exhibits and then promote the treasures far and wide via creative use of public media.

So, seems to me the concept of pastor as "curator" is perhaps one of the more helpful images we could have, given this trend in museums.

If you don't have a good curator, you have no way to present the treasures of a collection in a way that reaches the greatest number of people possible.

Anonymous said...

So, on Sunday, what do I say to the "man formerly known as Pastor"? Is it "Good morning, curate" or "Good morning, curator"? :-D