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Ministry of the first order

by Fletcher Lowe

Baptism

Over two thousand years ago, Paul said it this way: “equip the saints for ministry….” Ephesians 4:12

Sixty-six years ago, the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, fleshed it out:

The real battles of faith today are being fought in factories, shops, offices, and farms, in political parties and government agencies, in countless homes, in the press, radio and television, in the relationship of nations.  Very often it is said the Church should “go into these spheres,” but in fact the Church is already in these spheres in the persons of its laity.”

Anglican lay leader Mark Gibbs 49 years ago put it in the context of clergy and laity:

“The laity are not called by God to any lower standard of discipleship than clergy or churchy laity. They are not limited to any less standard of Christian life and witness. They are, indeed, God’s first line of agents in the world.  [God] has placed them and can use them in secular structures where the clergy can seldom penetrate.”  (Mark Gibbs, October, 1971)

Ordination to the priesthood

So now Episcopalians in their Catechism ask and answer the question:

Who are the ministers of the Church?

The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. (BCP p. 855)

Notice, the first order of ministry in the Church is lay persons.  Notice also that the remaining three are in-house orders whose function is within the institutional Church.

In defining the ministry of the laity, the Catechism states it this way:

The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church. (BCP, p. 855)

Notice that the laity’s calling is beyond the Church doors with one exception – the last one, participating in the governance of the Church. Notice too that in the world of daily living, lay people exercise many of the functions the church asks of bishops, priests, and deacons.

    1. Lay persons are bishop-ing in the wider world. Often, they are called to oversee their workplaces, their homes and their communities, to work for unity and reconciliation, to make efforts to build up their organizations. That’s bishop-ing.
    2. Lay persons are priest-ing in the wider world. Often, they are called to give and receive forgiveness (pardon), to offer blessings with food and friends and family, to teach and to guide. That’s priest-ing.
    3. Lay persons are deacon-ing in the wider world. Often, they are called to serve others in countless ways. Most everything we do has a serving opportunity with it, be that in business or garbage collection or clerking at retail or fast food or medicine or homemaking or parenting or whatever. That’s deacon-ing.

Within the wider world the lay people, commissioned by their Baptism, are the front-line bishops, priests, and deacons.  The Dismissal sends them out from the Church building to be the church, to live into their ministries wherever they live and more and have their being.  Thanks be to God!!

Feeding God’s people with love

by Pam Tinsley

“Food is Free” says the sign.

When feeding our families, many of us choose “farm to table.” My friend from church, Reberta, just recently discovered a new connection: “front yard to table.” Early this spring she decided to convert part of her front yard into a garden. She had just learned about a community food-sharing program, Food is Free 253. Food is Free’s mission is to nurture community and grow food while helping to gain independence from broken agricultural systems.  A key purpose of the gardens and sharing tables is to help nurture stronger communities by providing opportunities to gather and share stories. Reberta realized that her corner lot would be ideal for such a ministry.

Reberta and her neighbor signed up for the program, acquired two large vegetable planter boxes, bought veggie starts, and began planting. As the vegetables grew, they began harvesting them and setting them out on a sharing table for neighbors to pick up as they pass by. Not only do Reberta and her neighbor set out the produce they’ve grown themselves, they’ve also received donations from local farmers, including an allotment from the Washington Potato Growers who donated 200,000 pounds of potatoes to local communities. Reberta uses cash donations to purchase canned goods, powdered milk, and dry and canned soups.

With her Food is Free ministry, Reberta is feeding God’s people in two ways. Certainly, her neighbors are being fed with healthy, nourishing vegetables directly from the source. But Reberta also is providing a way that neighbors can connect with one another over a table of vegetables — a real gift during these times of isolation. By combining her love of gardening with her love of people, Reberta ministers in her daily life and shows her neighbors how Christ’s love feeds her and all of God’s people.

Discovering what’s holy

by Demi Prentiss

It’s not uncommon, especially for those of us in the church / non-profit world, to think of our work as our ministry, or at least a major part of it.  While much of the time the work is life-giving — sometimes even empowering — all of us face times when there’s more tedium than uplift. The results seem to stagnate and the issues seem insurmountable.  The sense of call to our work can fade, and motivating ourselves can get harder.

We all know how the spiral starts on its downward path. The lack of enthusiasm starts to slide toward irritation — minor, at first, because of drudgery or overload or sheer weariness. And, as the irritation grows, the frustration builds, as we notice that the harder we push, the less we accomplish. Soon, the frustration upgrades to actual pain – the pain of not seeing results, or not completing what seems so easy for another, or suddenly recognizing that none of our work is any good at all. Ever. To anyone.  And there we are, trapped in anger and sadness at simple mistakes, hearing every innocent remark as targeting our failings, unmasked as the pitiful, incapable wretch we really are.  We begin to believe that Genesis spoke truth in identifying work as the curse of humanity.

Brother Lucas Hall, SSJE, recognized this pattern in himself, as he struggled writing a sermon highlighting the story of Mary and Martha. His reflection on the story and on his frustration led him to an insight:

Work is not bad. Even the most contemplative among us must work. But work serves an end. Even the holiest work of your life is not your purpose. It facilitates your purpose, and your purpose is encounter. The welcoming of the eternal, living God into your midst.

The good news is that each of us, in our daily work, inside and outside our home, has the opportunity for such an encounter. In every person we engage — and deep within our own hearts — we have the opportunity to meet Christ. Expanding our hearts to respect the dignity of every human being liberates us from focusing on what we believe we need to accomplish.

As Thomas Merton wrote to a young Jim Forest:

Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.

—Thomas Merton, “Letter to a Young Activist”

Where’s the church?

by Fletcher Lowe

You may have heard the story of a recent conversation between the Devil and God. Gleefully the devil says, “Well, God, looks like I have beat you this time.  My virus has shut down all your churches just as I planned.”  God replies, “You are correct that the church buildings are closed down. But the church is not, for the church are the people and they are very much alive, some doing extraordinary things to protect my people.”

That reminds me of a conversation I had with a person driving into the town where I began my ordained life. When he saw my clerical collar, he rolled down his car window and asked where the Episcopal church was.  I hesitated a moment and then said, “Well, the church is the teller in that bank over there, and down the road  the owner of the radio station and back there is the mayor in city hall and over there is the salesman in the hardware story.  That’s where the church is. But if you want to know where the building is it’s two blocks over on the left.”  I’m sure I gave him more information than he wanted, but it does follow God’s rebuke of the devil.  The drawing says it all!!

Jesus in Matthew 10 put it this way:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

To paraphrase: “GO, partner with me in my mission, not to some foreign place but right here in your community.”

That call comes to us, again, to “GO, Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” as the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant states.

A new favorite hymn of mine says it well:

Go my children with my blessing, never alone.

Waking, sleeping, I am with you; you are my own.

In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever….

Go my children, fed and nourished, closer to me,

Grow in love and love by serving, joyful and free….

Amen.

Pandemics and baptismal living

Photo by Katie Sherrod

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

COVID-19 is, of course, THE pandemic of our time, and quite probably for a longer period than we would like to contemplate. Already it has altered our patterns of living, some of which could be permanent. We don’t know yet, and it’s that rub of uncertainty which clouds our thinking and unsettles our well-being.

But in the wake of COVID-19 I believe there are three other pandemics that, while disturbing us, yet posit the possibility of initiating long-overdue changes in American life and living. I believe the church should look and listen carefully and welcome them for their possible outcomes that coincide with God’s purposes, Jesus’s mission, and our baptismal ministries “on earth as it is in heaven.”

These other pandemics are:

      • our battered economy;
      • the reckoning of systemic racism engendered by white supremacy, privilege, and power; and
      • the rescuing of our strained democracy from the political clutches of a presidential administration gone amorally amok.

Some folk who practice their faith in the variety of American denominational churches will accuse this kind of thinking as being just too political, too secular, and not religious, nothing sacred, at all. To which I quote Mohandas Gandhi: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”  I agree, because the opposite of secular is the eternal; the opposite of sacred is the profane.  Our pandemics are giving us the unique opportunity to deal with some of our chronic medical, economic, cultural, and political profanities.

This portion of a sermon that appeared in an April op-ed piece in The New York Times captured what this opportunity could be:

This is a powerful moment in human history in which we can examine, individually and collectively, the unnecessary decadence and cruelty of our contemporary society that we have accepted without sufficient scrutiny. …

 

Having tasted a simpler life (in the pandemic shutdown), perhaps we will shift our values and patterns. Having seen the importance of community, maybe we will invest more in the well-being of the collective and not just the individual. Having seen the suffering of others anew, we may find it impossible to ignore it in the future.

 

And having seen the ease with which the forces St. Paul called the ‘powers and principalities’ can mobilize to defend entrenched interests, maybe – just maybe – we as a people will feel empowered to demand the same urgency of action on our planet’s climate, domestic and global poverty, the health and education of all people, and the myriad pressing problems for which future generations will judge us harshly for tolerating.

Steven Paulikas, rector

All Saints’ Church. Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY

Might this be an agenda for the Church and all its baptized ministers? I think so. I hope so. May it be so.

Editor’s note: June 23, 2020, the date this blog was posted is the 85th anniversary of Edward’s baptism – June 23, 1935, one week shy of his first birthday. Edward writes, “My parents told me it followed the 11 o’clock Morning Prayer service (’28 BCP of course) in our home parish, officiated by a much beloved rector (and deservedly so). So began my baptismal journey in TEC. It’s been a wonderful and interesting ride.”

Trinitarian ministry in daily life

The Most Holy Trinity, St. George Church, Guke near Pljevlja, Montenegro

by Demi Prentiss

Trinity Sunday – observed across many Christian denominations last Sunday – usually focuses on the ineffable trinitarian identity of the God we worship. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty” is often the theme song of the day’s observances.  It’s unusual to hear any reference in Trinity Sunday liturgies to the oh-so-everyday-ness of living out our Christian faith each day, in the daily activities we pursue.

So I was delighted to read this “God Pause,” a lectionary-based devotional series from Luther Seminary.  “Every baptized person is incorporated into the realm of God’s powerful gifts” – every baptized person not only bears the imprint of the Lord God, they are also empowered to exercise the gifts of God for the people of God.

Devotion

Three small waterfalls on one’s head: one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit. That also means: one for the Creator, one for the Redeemer, one for the Sustainer. This important Trinitarian expression reminds us that in baptism, every baptized person is incorporated into the realm of God’s powerful gifts—the power to create, the power to redeem us from our sins, the power to sustain us in all things we face in this world. The promise is all there in the Word combined with water. First John declares, “God is love.” In the Trinitarian confession we might expand this to say that God our Creator is Love; Jesus is Love; the Spirit is Love.

 

Prayer

Triune God, you come to us in many forms, but you are always Love, surrounding, entering, and sustaining us. Lead us to know that you are with us in our highest celebrations, in our deepest times of despair, and in the ordinary times of growth. In your love we pray. Amen.

Sandee D. Kosmo ’89, M.Div.

Pastor, Grace Lutheran Communities, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

An unexpected blessing

Enjoying our porch    –    Photo by Dave Tinsley

by Pam Tinsley

Our seven-month remodeling project was finished just before our statewide stay-at-home order went into effect. The project was driven in part by safety concerns – the removal of our earthquake-vulnerable chimney – and in part by environmental concerns – the replacement of a wood-burning fireplace with a propane fireplace. To provide more light in our living room, we enlarged two windows. And for a personal touch, we added a front porch. We envisioned peacefully relaxing on our porch as we took in the fresh air during warmer – and even damp – weather with a cup of tea, a good book, and our basset hound lounging at our feet.

However, we’ve discovered an unexpected “front-porch blessing” during this time of stay-at-home orders. The parking strip and parts of our front yard have become a gathering point for neighborhood children and their appropriately-social-distancing parents! We hear squeals of joy as children ride their bikes or scooters in the closed-off street, blow gigantic bubbles, jump rope, or make chalk drawings up and down the sidewalk. They entertain our puppy, just as she entertains them! Parents who’ve lost their jobs and older siblings keep an eye on the younger kids. And in the late afternoon – especially when the sun is out – the parents who have been working from home meet on our front lawn to socialize.

A loss of personal connection has been one of the deep sorrows of this tragic pandemic, because – as human beings – we’re wired for relationship. It’s such a joy to hear the children play and to see our neighbors gather and forge stronger bonds with one another – while maintaining a safe distance. Thanks to our new front porch addition, the front yard now teems with life in the midst of this pandemic and offers an unexpected blessing to our lives and to those of our neighbors!

The best Easter ever

by Fletcher Lowe

This Easter was one of the best – if not THE best – I have ever experienced.  Why? Not only was the tomb empty, but so were the stores and the streets as well as the church buildings. We had none of the usual distractions: e.g.  bunnies, egg hunts, parades, Easter finery.  The real Easter message of Resurrection was there!

So where are we? Like those early apostles “locked in.” Not as they were, for fear of the authorities, but because of fear of the virus.

And where are we? Perhaps out walking, like those two men on the road to Emmaus. And like them, a bit confused and uncertain and unsettled, not because we didn’t recognize the Risen Lord, but because so much about the virus is unknown.

And where are some of the Apostles later, but back in Galilee at work. Out fishing, a bit frustrated for lack of productivity. And where may some of us be? Perhaps working or studying, but at home, and a bit frustrated for the lack of daily personal contact.

So in these three ways we meet those early disciples in their post-Resurrection fear, confusion, and frustration.  Into those situations, and ours, Jesus appears, and his presence makes a significant difference. As he met them where they were, so he meets us where we are today amidst all the unsettling reality of Covid 19. And isn’t that the central Easter message – that Christ is risen and meets us wherever we are, bringing us hope and love and peace.

Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen indeed!! Alleluia!!

How do you bring your faith to your work?

by Demi Prentiss

Are you searching for a free online Bible study that helps you connect your work, your calling, and your faith? The Theology of Work Project and Public Reading of Scripture have teamed together to offer an online study via Zoom during the month of April. Each 45-minute session, hosted by ToW’s executive director Will Messenger, is offered twice a week.

You can join the study using this link: https://zoom.us/j/991407943 

There are three more sessions offered in April. Click on the link at one of the times listed below. All times below are listed in Eastern Time (ET), United States. Click here to find your local time.

      • The Eternal Value of Work (Revelation 21-22)
        Thursday, April 23, 12:30pm ET
      • Calling: Finding God’s Call for Your Work (Romans 12)
        Tuesday, April 28, 3:30pm ET
      • Calling: Finding God’s Call for Your Work (Romans 12)
        Thursday, April 30, 12:30pm ET

“The Eternal Value of Work” and “Calling: Finding God’s Call for Your Work” are the final two sessions in a five-session study titled God’s Word for Work By following the GWFW link, you’ll access the entire five-week study.  You’ll find resources to help you host an online Bible study, including the Bible passage, commentary, prayer, and time for group discussion.  You can gather with friends, co-workers, your small group, anyone you want to study the Bible with! You can use all the lessons, or pick and choose among them.

Thanks to our friends at the Theology of Work Project and Public Reading of Scripture for offering these resources.

A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste

by Pam Tinsley

In a recent post, fellow blogger Demi Prentiss shared the challenges that many of us are experiencing as we adhere to stay-at-home orders, which are intended to keep others safe by protecting them from the spread of coronavirus. Staying at home to serve others feels so counter-intuitive when Christ’s mission field is outside the walls of our churches – and outside the walls of our homes.

Kristen Mulhern (far right), a St. Anthony Hospital ER nurse, enjoyed the Tacoma first responders parade. (a still from a video produced by Drew Perine – https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/coronavirus/article241937641.html)

Yet, it is absolutely possible to be the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of a pandemic, as my fellow parishioner, John Cain, wrote in an April 9 letter to the Tacoma News Tribune. He describes that “a tavern gifted hamburgers and cheeseburger sandwiches to every tenant in a nearby apartment complex. A friend who likes to grill gives away food to children and families who are in need. Phone calls to friends are far more rewarding than Facebook posts…. It is the quiet acts of generosity that will sustain us in the long run.”

Over the past month or so, I’ve also been inspired by many responses to Jesus’ love in action, when I see people reach out to those will become increasingly isolated as stay-at-home orders remain in place at least through May 4. Neighborhood groups, such as Nextdoor, seek to connect people and share resources for emergency public alerts and assistance. With schools closed, teenagers are offering their babysitting services to parents who have essential jobs. Individuals are picking up extra groceries for quarantined or high-risk neighbors. And, on Good Friday, a moving parade of first-responders in firetrucks, ambulances, and police vehicles saluted a local hospital’s Emergency Department to thank health-care workers on the front lines – with blaring sirens!

By embracing this spirit of sacrifice – rather than succumbing to fear or scarcity-induced hoarding – we, as Christ’s disciples, can show the world that we are Christ’s hands and feet in the world – and that all people and relationships matter. As my friend John concludes, “How we handle this crisis and how we reach out to others will sustain us not only now but in the future.”