Transforming lay ministry

The Rev. Dr. Sam A. Portaro, Jr. retired in December 2004 after 22 years of service as the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Chicago.  He was ordained in 1975 and served as Vicar at Church of the Epiphany in Newton, North Carolina, the Episcopal Chaplain to the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and Associate to the Rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Sam graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and Virginia Theological Seminary. He earned his D.Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He authored eight books, and his words continue to speak to the church.

by Sam Portaro


Given the myriad talents, skills, gifts, and passions of the diverse collective of the baptized, the scope of ministry is nearly limitless. Yet most definitions of ministry are crabbed and cramped, limited to the relatively small body of Christians represented in the orders of bishop, priest, and deacon. Moreover, an appreciation of the worth of each person as a valued, contributing component of creation suggests that just as there is no place where God is not, there is no place where ministry is not practiced.  …


Still, “lay ministry,” with scant exception, is most often conceived as an extension of the work of the institutional church. Assistants in the liturgy. Lay visitors to the sick and shut-in. Lay workers with responsibility for specialized work like parish administration, education, youth, or music. With considerable fanfare and self-congratulation, churches offer training, licensing, and opportunity for “lay ministry” with no apparent awareness that limiting lay ministry to institutional tasks is selfish and self-serving. It is as though lay ministry has no validity beyond the bounded walls of “church.” …


When “enabling the ministry of the laity” means institutional control over lay energies, deploying lay gifts in service to institutional ends, furthering the work of the institutional church with volunteer and low-wage workers, then the true “enabling” in such initiatives is the perpetuation of this institutional captivity. Lay ministry is not the corralling of lay energies for the service of the institutional church. Lay ministry is the living expression of every baptized person’s vocation in daily life.  …  most Christians might well be surprised to learn that their whole life has been and is a ministry.

— from  Transforming Vocation by Sam Portaro, Church Publishing (an imprint of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York), 2008, pp. 68-70.

Posted by Edward L. Lee, Jr., bishop of Western Michigan, retired

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