by Edward L. Lee, Jr.
Part 1 of this blog appeared in late March. It maintained that the Book of Common Prayer establishes and asserts that there are four orders of ministry in The Episcopal Church, not just three, all sacramentally grounded in Baptism: lay persons. bishops, priests, and deacons. The sequence is essential in understanding the equality of all ministers and ministry in the Church. Ministry is the holy enterprise of baptized equals who understand that all life is ministry. Being a lay person is being a front line minister Sunday through Saturday, 24/7, 12/365.
The traditional ordained ministries — bishops, priests, and deacons — have, however, through history been regarded as the real ministers of the Gospel and Church. They got locked into that perception and role when the Church for centuries was what historians have called Christendom, an official sanctifier of empire and culture, of state and dominion, an arbiter and player in the halls of power and politics. To some extent it still is, or at least tries to be, even though the Christendom era and aura have waned significantly. The Church is now faced with the task of once again coming to grips with what it means to be baptized, “to be sealed by the Holy Spirit … and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
The Protestant Reformation introduced some key understandings of what the ministries of the baptized ought to be about even though it still clung to Christendom underpinnings. For example, it was Martin Luther who posited the broad ministerial scope of “the priesthood of all believers.” And John Calvin maintained that there is only one ordained ministry, the presbyter, and he (no women back then) was only one voice with lay elders in the governance of the Church. Still, it would be awhile before governance of the Church would not just be something akin to running the institution, as if that constituted ministry; but would begin to understand that real ministry in and for the world that God loves is inaugurated and imparted in Baptism, and is lived and exercised daily from dawn to dusk for a lifetime. All life is ministry and it is a serious vocation.
Let it be argued that the Episcopal/Anglican ordained ministries — bishops, priests, deacons — are still authentic in understanding the Church’s ministry. Yet they originate in Baptism and inform the baptized of how their ministries are apostolic, priestly, and diaconal without having to wear a bishop’s mitre, or a priest’s stole, or bear a deacon’s serving towel. Throughout any given day they manifest all three. Sadly the Church has rarely told them that, much less thanked them. Making these connections will be the subject of my next posting. Stay tuned.