Setting God’s People Free

by Demi Prentiss

With the passage of Resolution C005, General Convention earlier this year created the Task Force on Formation and Ministry of the Baptized. That group of 12 Episcopalians have been charged to “identify or develop curricula, practices, and strategies that can be used by dioceses and congregations to encourage and engage all the baptized in the work of building up the church by identifying their gifts for ministry, employing their gifts for ministry, and focusing on full engagement of their ministries in daily life, work, and leisure.” The task force is charged with recommending to the 2021 General Convention “strategies for the affirmation, development, and exercise of ministry by all baptized persons in the areas of gifts discernment, education and training for ministry, and leadership development.”

This work of recognizing, celebrating, and engaging the laity as equal and essential partners in ministry is not limited to The Episcopal Church. Back in 2017, the Church of England launched a new program called “Setting God’s People Free” (SGPF), aimed at equipping all the children of God to live the Good News of Jesus with confidence and joy, in every aspect of their lives, Sunday to Saturday.  Implementing the program means shifting the life of the church – every aspect of church culture – to focus on the whole people of God, living their lives in homes, schools, communities, and places of work, as well as the church.

The program originated in proposals from the Setting God’s People Free report written for the Archbishop’s Council and presented to Church of England’s General Synod in 2017. As one element of the C of E’s “Renewal and Reform” process, SGFP offers a series of practical resources for Monday to Saturday practices that support each church, and aim for a cultural transformation.

  • SGPF looks beyond and outside Church structures to the whole people of God at work in communities and wider society – not to ‘fixing’ the institutional Church.
  • SGPF challenges a culture that over-emphasizes a distinction between sacred and secular to a fuller vision of calling within the all-encompassing scope of the Gospel – not to limit vocation to church based roles.
  • SGPF seeks to affirm and enable the complementary roles and vocations of clergy and of lay people, grounded in our common baptism – not to blur or undermine these distinctions.
  • SGPF proposes imaginative steps to nourish, illuminate and connect what is working already in and through parishes and communities of faith – not to institute a top-down approach.

Only a year into implementation, the effects of SGFP are hard to gauge. The peer review process that is also a part of the Renewal and Reform is in its second year, and aims to facilitate shared learning as well as mutual accountability among participating dioceses.

The work of our fellow Anglicans in implementing SGFP can inform and enrich the work of the newly appointed TEC task force.  Stay tuned as the TEC task force – which I am honored to be a part of – embarks on its work.

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