Until I was a bishop. The question: “Is being bishop your baptismal ministry or is it a position in your career as a minister?”
It was asked by a 16-year-old young man and candidate for confirmation during a day-long teaching session on baptism I was leading in a Western Michigan diocesan deanery.
He wasn’t trying to be funny in a “gotcha” moment. He was serious because he “got it.” He got the connection between baptism as a Christian identity and therefore baptism as the basis of all ministry for both lay and ordained persons alike. He was beginning to understand that baptism is the first order of ministry in the church and not ordination, not even that of a bishop. (See Book of Common Prayer, p. 855, “The Ministry.”)
As soon as he asked, I realized I had never been asked it before — never during my seminary years, never during any of the canonical requirements leading to ordination, never in the course of my conversations and searchings regarding what I wanted to do with my life. Baptism and being baptized, being “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever,” never entered the vocational equation. In time, only ordination was discussed as “real” ministry and never was it related or connected to my baptism.
Baptism as an actual order of ministry is not yet fully realized because for centuries that was and has been confined to ordination. But we now have the opportunity to change that.
How do the ordained let baptized persons know and claim their identity as “called and sent” ministers of Christ in the world? When they affirm, empower, lift up, and thank the baptized for their ministries on behalf of the Gospel in their daily lives 24/7. And that will begin when the ordained can truly acknowledge that being a bishop or priest or deacon is in fact their own authentic baptismal ministry, a vocation long before it was manifest by ordination.
For me it was late in coming, but I hope not too late, thanks to a teenager’s question a couple of decades ago.