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Public service as ministry

by Pam Tinsley

In the days that led up to our contentious mid-term elections, I read an uplifting article[1] about Episcopalians from both sides of the aisle who cited their faith as leading them into public service. Just as some people are called to teaching, to medicine, or to ordained ministry, others experience their vocation as public servants. Audrey Denney, who ran for Congress in California, believes that “. . . all people are called to serve God in whatever capacity that [they] have vocationally. Sometimes that’s taking care of a family at home . . . and sometimes that’s running for office.” A consistent thread cited by the candidates interviewed in this article is that their call to run for public office arose out of a desire to make a difference. That desire to make a difference was inspired by their faith.

These candidates also revealed that their faith has instilled within them a sense of integrity and a commitment to justice – be it economic, racial, or environmental. Denney even describes her vision for the future as seeking the kingdom of God, although she acknowledges that she doesn’t necessarily express it in such terms when she is in secular venues.

These individuals – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are living out their faith in the midst of public service by striving for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being, and loving their neighbors as themselves. Their faith has shaped their values, those same values that we see in the Baptismal Covenant (BCP p. 304-5).

Our faith shapes our values. Not all of us are called to political office or public service. I certainly am not. Yet I am grateful to live in freedom in a republic, and I view my participation – by voting – in the political process as essential to my faith. For me, it is an expression of how Jesus commands me to seek and serve him by loving my neighbors – with God’s help. Just as I have been encouraged to pray for wisdom and integrity in exercising my right to vote and to pray for our nation and elected leaders – regardless of political affiliation – I encourage others to do so, as well. After all – in the words of Thomas Jefferson – we, the People, are the true leaders of our nation.

[1] Paulsen, David. “Candidates with Episcopal roots cite faith as inspiring, guiding campaigns for Congress.” Episcopal News Service. http://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2018/11/02/candidates-with-episcopal-roots-cite-faith-as-inspiring-guiding-campaigns-for-congress.

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The world needs members on mission

by Wayne Schwab

I believe that our primary purpose in creation is to build a more loving and just world.  And we are well on our way.  Humankind has come a long way toward living in more loving and just ways – away from tribal chiefs, child sacrifice, and treating illness with spells and toward more democratic governments, more responsible care for the planet, and more effective health care by doctors and their helpers.  We still have a long way to go in coping with climate change, in getting wealth out of politics, and in ending spouse and child abuse.

To continue on this trajectory, we need more members on mission who put themselves to work, making the world a more loving and just place, day in and day out wherever they are.  We need people for whom love does not give way to “me-first,” and justice does not give way to “our-crowd-first” mentalities.

Working for love and justice requires committed long-distance runners.  Long-distance runners need stamina and conviction.  With God’s help at every step, members on mission are able to run the distance.

The world needs as many members on mission as it can get.  For leaders, both clergy and lay, this is the challenge:  To connect with and support all church members as partners in God’s mission to make the world more loving and more just – for us, for future generations, and for our planet – all with God’s help.

Baptism is serious business

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

The late bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, Tom Ray, rejoiced with many others when Holy Baptism was restored to its rightful liturgical centrality in the current Book of Common Prayer. It was no longer to be a private “after hours” event on Sunday (and often a social occasion too), but rather the very sacramental heartbeat of what it means for a person to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” (BCP, p. 308), and to live in Christian community.

But for Bishop Ray and many others this centrality was only the beginning. The solemnity of Baptism has also to be entered into if the lives and ministries of the baptized are to be fully realized and manifest. Since most baptisms at the main service on Sundays are usually of infants or young children, it is understandable that the tone will be one of delight, joy, pride, even cuteness. That’s fine. But what about baptismal solemnity? How is that woven into the celebration and awareness of what is unfolding not only for the child but for the rest of us as well? In short, how do we understand and realize that being baptized is very serious, solemn business?

Perhaps the words and wisdom of others can provide us with what is the tone and substance of this solemnity.  Here’s a sampling:

“Our life is not our own property but a possession of God. And it is this divine ownership that makes life a sacred thing.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

“I saw that God is everything that is good and energizing. God is our clothing that wraps, clasps, and encloses us so as to never leave us.” – Julian of Norwich

 

“The trouble with some of us is that we have been inoculated with small doses of Christianity which keep us from catching the real thing.” – Leslie Dixon Weatherhead

 

Flannery O’Connor

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course, it is the cross.” – Flannery O’Connor

 

Jean Vanier with Kathy

“We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” – Jean Vanier

 

“To say that God is love is now too soft a phrase because of the sentimentality that has gathered around the word in the usage of the West, which enables many modern Christians to overlook the fact that the essence of the Kingdom of God according to Jesus is righteousness.” – Harry F. Ward

 

Desmond Tutu

“I cannot help it. When I see injustice, I cannot keep quiet. … The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian.” – Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu

Ministry in daily life, baptismal living and dying, is both joyful yet solemn, the vocation that comes when we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.”

Healing gifts

by Fletcher Lowe

Air Force physicians in Afghanistan, 2009.

I am blessed to be treated by a primary physician who is not only a gifted and talented doctor, but a dedicated Christian.  Recently when I had some minor surgery, he said that the surgeon was also a man of faith and most probably would be praying before my and his other patients’ operations. I felt that I was in good Godly hands!

In the hospital unit where I was treated, both before and after surgery, I found the nurses and those who worked with them dedicated to what they were doing.  That experience reminded me of a passage from the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus (38: 1 ff) at a time when the medical profession was in its infancy:

Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; 

for their gift of healing comes from the Most High…

And he gave skill to human beings that he might be glorified in his marvelous works. 

By them the physician heals and takes away pain;   God’s works will never be finished; and from him health spreads over all the earth….  Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; do not let him leave you, for you need him.  There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, for they too pray to the Lord that he grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life. 

Aware or not, those in the medical profession do bring God’s gifts of healing and provide a ministry to those of us who benefit from it. Thanks be to God!

Do you have a calling?

by Demi Prentiss

Most of us think of “a calling” as something for church people who are bound for ordination.  Those of us just trying to make our way in the world are more likely focusing on making a living and insurance coverage and work-life balance. “Calling” is not a concern for us, is it?

Mark Roberts’ recent blog begs to differ, looking at the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Eph 4:1):

….This verse says quite plainly: “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” The context makes it abundantly clear that this exhortation was not only for pastors, missionaries, and other special workers. It was for all of those who would read or hear the letter we call Ephesians. It was written for ordinary Christian folk, people who, according to the Apostle Paul, had received a calling. (Ephesians 4:1 isn’t the only verse in the Bible that makes it clear all of God’s people are called. For a discussion of other verses that make this point, see this article on the De Pree Center blog “Do I Have a Calling? Or Is This Just for Special People?”)

Talking about that same Ephesians passage, which goes on to compare the Christian community to the human body, Frederick Buechner wrote in Wishful Thinking:

God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn’t have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do. He was using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got him to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better.

“Anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do….”   “…some not-all-that-innocent bystander….”  That sounds like it might be me!  What a thought, that God might tap me on the shoulder and get me “to go and be Christ in that place …for lack of anybody better.”

Calling – what some call “vocation” – is not restricted to church leaders. As Elizabeth Newman wrote for Baylor University’s Center for Christian Ethics, “Our vocation is a gift, not something we decide after assessing our skills and talents. To discover our vocation, then, we must learn to receive the abundant life God desires to give us.” And Howard E. Butt, Jr, founder of The High Calling, urges all Christians, no matter where they choose to devote their productive energy, to be “builders, following Jesus the builder – building our capacities and building other people up, building relationships and organizations, a company, a service, a breakthrough – building our ministry in daily life.”

Holy Work

by Pam Tinsley

I recently attended a workshop about the theology of stewardship, where the speaker, Bishop Greg Rickel, shared an unexpected story. He began by addressing our discomfort with discussing money in the church (at least the Episcopal Church), why he was an advocate for year-round stewardship, and why it is a good idea to separate time and talent from the annual pledge drive.

After talking about stewardship and ministries within the church, Bishop Rickel then shared a remarkable story. As a parish priest, he had invited each member of his congregation – young and old – to leave a symbol of their vocation at the foot of the altar. A fifth-grader brought her math homework; a nurse, her stethoscope; and a grocery clerk, his name tag.

It was a mail carrier, however, who slowly approached the altar with tears streaming down his face. He carefully laid his mailbag at the foot of the altar and turned to his priest. “No one has ever suggested that the work I do as a mail carrier might be holy,“ he said.

God invites each of us to holy work. For some, that work might be within the church. For most, that work is outside the church. Our work – be it compensated or not – is to do the work God has given us to do out in the world as baptized Christians. All of our work is, indeed, holy work.

Is your idea of church a lie?

by Demi Prentiss

Christians aren’t commissioned to “go” to church. Christians are meant to BE the church. Yet, in many faith communities, we are taught that we need permission, or facilitation, or membership, or professional guidance to participate in Christ’s mission.

Benjamin Corey’s blog challenges that standard definition of church:

LIE: Church is something you do on Sundays.

That thing you attend on Sundays? That’s not church– that’s a corporate worship service, and they are not the same thing. It is part of the thing, but not the thing itself.

Church wasn’t originally about corporate worship as much as it was about doing life together. It’s about community. Helping one another. Walking together through all of life’s ups and downs. In fact, the early church was so dedicated to this that they practically met daily– they needed each other.

 

Michael Coghlan – Flickr

They shared meals together. They prayed together. They talked about their days, celebrated in the beautiful moments, and uplifted one another during the hard moments. They were inseparable friends, because Church was designed to be a committed community.

 

In this way, “church” has nothing to do with a building, very little to do with a worship service on Sundays, but is actually more about having a circle of committed friends who are dedicated to walking through life, together. It’s about having a group of people in your life who you know will never leave you stranded and alone, no matter how hard life gets, or how badly you screw up.

The truth is that church is the web of relationship, the community that equips us to be Christ’s body in the world. Wherever we find ourselves, our baptism means we are to stand up for what Jesus stood for: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, standing with the marginalized, welcoming the stranger, resisting injustice, and always, always embodying the love that the world thirsts for.

Being part of a church can help us do that. But anyone who chooses to stand with Jesus may do so, regardless of whether they are members of a church community. And being part of the Jesus Movement means, in the words of James the Just (Acts 15:19), “So here is my counsel: we should not burden these outsiders who are turning to God.” In addition to praying for “those whose faith is known to [God] alone” (BCP p.391), we might just want to seek them out and partner with them.

 

We’re not ‘two people’

by Fletcher Lowe

We in the Church are accustomed to making a distinction between the clergy and the laity.   We do that so often and so automatically that we’ve lost an awareness of the historical context for those two words.

In The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, authors Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens offer a humorous view of how artificial that distinction is:

From “Politics of Africa” blog:  Inequality at all levels of society.

CLERGY

In common speech clergy is a term used to describe a religious official, certain members of a religious order or a pastoral leader of a church or denomination.

Its counterpart is laity – the untrained, uneducated, common members of the church. This two-people approach to the church is anachronistic and unbiblical (see Laity). We look in vain in the Bible for laypersons in the sense of untrained, unequipped and not-called. Those words available in the ancient world to describe laypeople (in the common sense) – laikos and idiotes – were never used by inspired writers to describe Christians. Instead we are introduced to the whole people of God – designated by the word laos (the people) – who, including leaders, together are the true ministers. The Greek word for clergy (kleros) is used to describe the dignity and appointment of all the people to ministry. So paradoxically the church has no laypeople in the usual sense of that word and yet is full of clergy in the original meaning of that word.

Quilted Prayers

by Pam Tinsley

On the Fourth of July, some friends of ours hosted a backyard barbecue that included folks from their neighborhood, and I had the opportunity to meet Anna. As we chatted, I learned that she is a cancer survivor, and she shared a story about her chemotherapy experience that changed not only her health, but also her life.

When Anna began her chemotherapy, she was invited to select a beautiful hand-made quilt from a nearby cupboard. The quilt would keep her warm during treatment. At each treatment, Anna was given the same quilt, which she wrapped around herself and from which she drew great comfort and peace. She told me that the quilt was almost like a “blanky.” She faithfully returned the quilt to the cupboard at the end of each treatment.

At the end of her very last treatment, Anna went to return the quilt. Instead of accepting the quilt, the nurse said to her, “Oh, no, this is yours to keep!” Anna was deeply moved when she realized that the quilt was a gift that had been made for her. She thought about the love that went into making a quilt for a stranger. Anna reflected about this wonderful – almost mystical – bond she felt with the anonymous quilter. Anna then realized how much the anonymous quilter had ministered to her throughout her cancer treatment. She felt truly blessed.

Anna herself is a seamstress, even though she had never done much quilting. She decided right then and there that she would combine her gift for sewing with love and prayers, and that she would make prayer quilts for the chemotherapy infusion clinic. She wanted to give to others the same peace and comfort she had experienced during those long, hard and sometimes spiritually lonely months.

Anna’s story has stuck with me. When she was too weak to pray herself, she drew strength and comfort from the quilt – a gift made out of love by someone Anna would probably never meet. Anna shows us how a simple act of kindness can change another life – and can also open our eyes to ways we might minister to others.

What gift or talent do you have that you might share in order to bring love, peace or hope to someone else?

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