BISHOP TOM RAY — Pt. 2, In His Own Words

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Tom Ray, bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan from 1982 to 1999 died in early February this year. He was 83. In his episcopacy he pioneered and implemented what he called Mutual Baptismal Ministry whereby congregations of any size and location could be fully and canonically empowered by the raising up from within all the ministers and ministries needed to be an asset-based community that was, in his words, “baptized into mission through ministry.”(Total Ministry is its short-hand title.) This especially included the identifying, training, and ordaining of parishioners to provide all the sacramental needs of the parish without depending on a retired or bi-vocational or Sunday supply priest who, in Tom’s words, “confects the sacraments for the parish instead of them being sanctified by the baptized community itself.”

In some Anglican/Episcopal circles this model of doing mission and ministry could and does rattle the ecclesiastical sensibilities of what it means to be the church. It challenged, and challenges, the traditional institutional order grounded and steeped in what Tom identified as “debilitating patriarchy, hierarchy and clericalism.”

In his own words: “Baptism is the transformational event. That’s what changes you. But we have taken all the solemnity of baptism and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed everything out of it and put it into ordination so that now ordination means everything and baptism means very little.” Tom once observed, “I have often thought that if baptismal formation took three years, and preparation for ordination took only three skimpy sessions, then we would indeed be experiencing and participating in a revolution.”

Stated more bluntly by Tom Ray, “Mutual baptismal ministry pushes back against the hierarchical infantilizing of adult Christians who are considered second class citizens if they are not ordained.”

But what characterizes this model and form of total ministry rooted in baptism? Again, in his own words: “My experience of renewal and transformation within the church comes in congregations that take responsibility for their own life and mission and ministry whereby collaboration replaces delegation by a designated usually ordained authority; where decisions are made by consensus, not rules of order; and where leadership is mutual and circular, not hierarchical.”

However, a baptismally alert and alive community that functions through collaboration, consensus, and circular leadership is not an end in and of itself. It’s not just a different institutional construct for its own sake. It exists for the full realization of what it means to do ministry in daily life.

In Tom Ray’s own words: “Christians imbued with the call to ministry as a result of their baptism, not their education or ordination, can bring all that to help and energize our lives so that we can live thoughtfully, sacramentally, diaconally, priestly, and apostolically—at home and at work and in  the neighborhood—then all of a sudden our Christianity is not something we do on Sunday, but it touches us everywhere at all times and in all places.”


Mobile Jesus

by Fletcher Lowe

Ascension, Salvador Dali, 1958

Earlier this week the church marked the Feast of Christ’s Ascension. I’m thinking about Ascension Day, as I hold my mobile phone.  The phone is a real gift with all it can do to provide so many services for me.  But sometimes it gives me a “no connection” or a “searching” message – and I have to wait or relocate to get service.

How does that relate to Ascension?  You may remember – Jesus takes the disciples up to a high place and then in a dramatic moment is lost to their sight.  He ascended.  Now, in the world view of his time, that meant up to heaven as opposed to down to hell. People sometimes joke that Jesus was the first astronaut. But to be fixed on that is to lose the essence of the Ascension.  The Ascension proclaims that Jesus who was physically limited for 33 years to a particular time and place, e.g. Palestine, is no longer bound.  He is “mobile Jesus,” unrestricted to geography or chronology – present in all time and all places.  The “searching” and the “no connection” messages do not apply to this mobile Jesus. Wherever it is, Jesus is already there.

Recently in a church publication, the title of an article read “Bring God into the Workplace.”  I thought, “How un-Ascension!”  We don’t bring God anywhere – God is already there, ready or not!!  Present in your home and mine, in offices and schools, restaurants, athletic fields, bars, war zones, flooded communities – God’s already there.

But we sometimes want to limit Jesus’ mobility – to relegate him to

  • A particular place like a church building
  • To a particular day, like Sunday
  • To a particular service like the Eucharist
  • To a particular person like a priest

The Ascension blows that out of the water.  Just as Jesus burst through the boulder that covered the tomb on Easter, so he bursts through any attempts on our part to limit his mobility.

And he said as much: “I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth.”  Hear that again:  “I am with you always,” whether we are aware of his presence or not – and not limited just to us or to Christians – but to all people at all times in all places. One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith – the mobile Jesus, unlimited, unrestricted.

So the message of the Ascension is mobile Jesus – no “searching,” no “no connection,” no “roaming.”


Where is the church?

by Dave Walker

by Demi Prentiss

Clergy Coaching Network recently posted this cartoon on its Facebook page.  The cartoon, by Dave Walker, is used as an illustration in Steve Aisthorpe’s book The Invisible Church: Learning from the Experiences of Churchless Christians.

I was struck with the postings from commenters, who argued back and forth about what being the church actually means. And while people were willing to concede that the church is not a building, the notion that an individual, on their own out in the world, might be the church was apparently quite challenging.

In a world that practically idolizes individualism, how did we decide that a Christian alone is incapable of being an ambassador of Christ? How did we surrender agency to the institution, which was completely unknown to the founder? How can we interpret “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” and “You will be my witnesses” if the individual is incapable of being the church?

The church gathered for worship is a vital tool, equipping each person to leave worship and go into the world, to serve as the church scattered, like salt or yeast, to transform their surroundings.  What do you need to empower you to be the church, wherever you find yourself?

IN MEMORIAM: THOMAS K. RAY (1934-2018) – Part One

by Edward L. Lee

Tom and Brenda Ray

Little notice has been made in The Episcopal Church of the death of Tom Ray on February 6, preceded just three days earlier by that of his wife Brenda. Tom was the bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan from 1982 to 1999. Both died quickly after coping with protracted illnesses for several years. This June they would have been married for 59 years, during which time they raised four children who in turn provided them with many grandchildren. They were a very special couple and family.

Full disclosure: Tom and I were colleagues in ordained  ministry for 62 years, starting as seminary roommates in New York City and ending as bishops in Michigan, he in the Northern diocese (Upper Peninsula) and I in the Western diocese of the Lower Peninsula. We were closest of friends. Yet it was Tom who raised my consciousness regarding the centrality of baptism, not ordination, in the mission and ministry of the church.

The website of the Diocese of Northern Michigan presents that vision in these words:

Our goal is to transform our congregations from being communities gathered around a minister  to being ministering communities.

Stated more succinctly is the diocesan slogan: Stop attending church; start being the church.

It was Tom Ray who pioneered and instituted this pattern of “mutual ministry” (others have also called it “total ministry”) in Northern Michigan. A few other bishops of the church have promoted this vision of Christian community in the years before and after Tom, usually in similar dioceses of small and scattered congregations spread throughout expansive geographic spaces. The challenge: how to be fully sacramental Spirit-blown communities minimally burdened by the usual costs of property and personnel, and unfettered by unrealistic church rules and regulations, in order to live out the Baptismal Covenant, the Gospel’s constitution for all mission and ministry.

In future blog postings I will elaborate on this model of being/doing church. For the moment, however, I want to remember and celebrate the life and person of a dear friend and an adventuresome bishop who made a big difference in my life and in the life of the church even as it seems it might be forgetting him. I won’t let that happen.

Living Faith at the Crossroads

by Fletcher Lowe

George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, once wrote,

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . .  at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about.

As we experience Holy Week and Easter it is well to remember what George MacLeod has put so dramatically.  The real action for the Christian is not in the “cathedral” but in the marketplace where life is lived.  That is where the baptized live into their Baptism.  That is where, for the Christian, “the rubber meets the road.”


by Demi Prentiss

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and founder of the Church for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO, has announced the apocalypse. In a recent post, she reminded readers that  “the apocalypse”

… proclaim[s] a big, hope-filled idea: that dominant powers are not ultimate powers. Empires fall. Tyrants fade. Systems die. God is still around.

An apocalypse is a good thing, and I’m delighted to welcome you to this one.

As Bolz-Weber sees it, the #Me Too and #TimesUp movements represent the comeuppance of a long-time system of organizing the world – around gender inequality and domination. Using Friedrich Schleirmacher’s definition of heresy – “that which preserves the appearance of Christianity, and yet contradicts its essence” – Bolz-Weber calls out a centuries-old practice of Christianity:

The heresy is this: With all the trappings of Christianity behind us, those who seek to justify or maintain dominance over another group of people have historically used the Bible to prove that that domination was not actually an abuse of power at the expense of others, but indeed was part of “God’s plan.” And there you have the appearance of Christianity (Bible verses and God-talk) contradicting its essence (love God, and love your neighbor as yourself).

With the arrival of this apocalypse, we need to see how deep the heresy of domination runs, and then remind one another that dominant powers are not ultimate powers. We Christians need to repent of our original sins, and see where we have embraced the appearance of Christianity only to reject its essence.

This hard work – naming our own heresy and working to surrender the fruit of it – is the essence of daily discipleship – living our theology in daily life. Following Jesus – practicing the life of love – is essential. And, likewise, sharing the story of our journey is equally important. No matter your hashtag – #MeToo, #ChurchToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #daca – standing with those who resist domination and making room for their testimony is one way to live up to your baptismal promises.

Ministry in Doggy Life

by Pam Tinsley

There’s something special about Toby: He’s big and lumbering and has sad brown eyes that have a way of drawing you to him, making you feel comfortable around him, helping you feel safe. Toby frequently visits children’s hospitals and nursing facilities, in and around the South Puget Sound and also in Houston. When he enters a room in a nursing home, he is welcomed with joyful smiles. Children love to nestle in his fur and crawl over him. Oh, yes, by the way, Toby is a 165 pound St. Bernard – a therapy dog with his own Facebook page! Toby’s person Stan has a demanding professional life, yet he makes it a priority to create time to minister to others with Toby.

I think that sometimes we look around and see such tragedy and desperate need in the world that we wonder whether we can make any difference. We might become overwhelmed and even paralyzed. Yet, all it takes to reveal God’s love for the world is to show kindness to just one other person in our daily lives.

Stan and Toby are examples of what we can do if we combine our passion and compassion. In Stan’s case, he combines his love of dogs and his compassion for others into a ministry that touches countless ill children, seniors, families, and healthcare workers by showing them God’s love – in the midst of the ordinary. Although being faithful to Christ is really a small step for Stan, visiting patients together with Toby leads to a profound sense of healing and well-being to those whose lives they touch.

The Ministry?

by Fletcher Lowe

During my sophomore year in college, I got a note from the Dean of Students to come to his office!! UGH!, what had I done to warrant that? So, dutifully and a bit nervously, I came at the appointed time and was ushered in.  The Dean asked me to sit down, and then asked me a question:  Had I ever thought about the Ministry? The Ministry, really?  I answered that it had never occurred to me.  He said that he would like for me to give it some thought and prayer. And then I left.  WOW!  That conversation did percolate in my spirit, eventually leading me to seminary and ordination in the Ministry.

Early on in the Ministry, spending quality time with parishioners where they worked, I began to see that the Ministry was far broader than clergy. My sense of the Ministry opened up to include all the Baptized as they live their daily live on the job, in the community, in the home.

For whatever historical and theological reasons, the Church, however, has been more exclusive than inclusive in its sense of the Ministry.  Mark Gibbs, over 50 years ago put it this way:

The secular laity are not called by God to any lower standard of discipleship than clergy or churchly laity.  They are not limited to any less standard of life and witness. They are indeed, God’s first line of agents in the world. He has placed them and can use them in secular structures where the clergy can seldom penetrate.

So the Dean, not only in his conversation with me, but in the countless other aspects of his work, was exercising the Ministry.  It is the Church’s responsibility to affirm its laity that who they are and what they do constitute the Ministry.

More than ashes

by Demi Prentiss

This week’s calendar oddity of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day falling on the same day was made even more poignant by the horrendous school shooting in Broward County, FL.  A reminder right in our newsfeed of the infinite colliding with the daily, as school personnel and students became heroes in daily life by doing their daily work. What a commentary on our culture, with the students remarking afterward that they knew just what to do because they had practiced so often.

Having ashes smudged on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent reminds us that we’re dust, and to dust we’ll return. For many of us, that’s a stark reminder that we’ll all die – there’s only one way out of this life. Wednesday’s shootings certainly reminded us of that!

But there’s more. Traditionally, the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are what’s left after burning the palms blessed and carried in the previous year’s Palm Sunday’s processions. That liturgy celebrates Jesus’ arrival

in Jerusalem to “Hosannas” from the crowd. Just as they would for an imperial procession, the crowd placed palm branches on the road as symbols of honor, celebration, and victory.

Pillars of Creation, Eagle Nebula

What I remember, when the ashes are placed on my forehead, is not only the palms and the celebrations and Holy Week’s subsequent betrayals. I also remember pictures from the Hubble telescope – stellar clouds of dust and ash. The very stuff we – and the entire universe – are made of. Stardust.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Not only ashes but stardust. We embody both, in every facet of the lives we live in Christ.

Contrasting welcomes

by Pam Tinsley

About a dozen cars were parked near the dark church building as I arrived for an appointment on a rainy afternoon. From the main entrance I could see a woman talking to someone else in an open office across the lobby. Yet all of the doors were locked. I knocked on the window and then noticed a bell. I rang the bell and waited. I knocked on the door and waited. I rang the bell again, and finally the woman opened the door and barely acknowledged me as I followed her to the office. There she resumed her conversation with two others, one of whom was the administrative assistant. I felt completely invisible.

After several minutes, the administrative assistant finally looked up at me. I gave my name, the name of the person I had the appointment with, and that I was a few minutes early.  She hesitated in a way that suggested the person I had the appointment with might not be there, then said curtly, “Yes, you are. Have a seat out there, and I’ll let her know you are here.” I was directed to the dark lobby.

The day before, I had rushed out of the house wearing faded jeans and a rain jacket that had a tattered pocket lining. As I entered the business, I was greeted warmly by several clerks standing behind the counter and directed to an individual who could help me.

The contrast between these two experiences was a clear reminder to me, and I hope to all of us, that treating others with respect and dignity can begin with a simple “hello,” with hospitality that recognizes our shared humanity, whether in church, in business, or in life. It strikes me that this is a step toward living out my baptism in my daily life and toward ministering to others by seeking and serving Christ in all people.