Core of priest’s calling: listening to laity

by Fletcher Lowe

fr-bausch-by-Catherine-Love

Tom Roberts in the January 22, 2016 edition of the National Catholic Reporter shares the story of the Rev. William Bausch, a New Jersey Roman catholic priest.

As a young priest in the 1960s, while serving at St. Joseph Church in Keyport, NJ, Fr. Bausch was assigned to be the chaplain to a Christian Family Action group (known as Christian Family Movement in most dioceses). One of the rules of the lay movement required him to be silent until the meeting ended.

“I remember that they made me sit on my hands because if I can’t use my hands, I can’t talk. I was never so humiliated and humbled in my life,” he said …. “Not because I had to sit on my hands but because, forced to be silent for two years, I had to listen, really listen, to their stories of how, day after day, they struggled to be good Christians. Month after month, I listened to them struggling inwardly with shady practices at the company at which they worked, the politics of the workplace, the compromises they were forced to make, the fear of losing their jobs, difficulties with children — school, rebellion, drugs — trying to make ends meet, hardly ever getting a vacation, trying not to lose faith in hard times, struggles with prayer, not feeling God’s presence, doubts.”

Through his tenure as chaplain, said Bausch, “I knew I had found my priesthood’s core: that they, the laity, would teach me, not only the other way around.”

This “profound sense of reverence and respect” for the lives and gifts of laypeople deeply affected his approach to being a pastor. “I made it clear to the people from day one that I was there to promote and call forth the gifts and charisms they already had, to teach them who they were as a people of God, to support and learn from them….”

Blogger’s questions:

  • To the clergy: how might you facilitate listening to lay folks share their daily life stories?
  • To lay folks: how might you facilitate your clergy to hear your daily life stories?

What EBM stands for, in a nutshell

by Peyton Craighill

I belong to a “subversive” organization known as “EBM – standing for Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (the organization that sponsors this blog). Its goal is to convince all Christians that they should take their baptismal vows seriously by living them out in all their daily-life activities, Monday through Sunday.

And (this is the “subversive” part), their congregations are supposed to help them do this!

This means converting our congregations from “shelters” (protecting their members from the stormy blasts of life), into “base camps” – inspiring, directing, equipping, and supporting their members for their missions in their daily lives, wherever Christ leads them on their journeys.

The typical “shelter” congregation places their primary emphasis on “Come” to church on Sunday mornings. The “base camp” congregation primarily emphasizes “Go” out in your daily lives to serve Christ’s mission, Monday-through-Sunday.

Danger! Baptismal Water!

I Am Baptizedby Demi Prentiss

On Sunday the preacher, referencing Luke’s story of the baptism of Jesus, reminded the congregation, “The baptized life is risky business.” She shared an excerpt from a poem by Richard Jespersen in the book I Am Baptized:

Danger!

Baptismal water!

A relentless undertow of grace,

crosscurrents pulling us in over our heads

and out of our depth in Christ;

the drowning of the self-as-god

and the rising of the self-in-Christ.

God buries in a watery grave everything not of God

and raises to new life everything of God,

our watery Good Friday and Easter….

In water,

we see reflections of the world as it is.

In baptismal water, we see reflections of the world as it will be,

and we are changed.

To live the baptized life

is to follow

the way of the water and Word.

To live baptized is to walk wet.

The risk in walking wet is the risk of vulnerability. While fear holds us back and imprisons us, the courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable sets us free, to live fully into the identity God dreams for us.

Walk wet. Walk with Jesus, who reminds us, even in the midst of the storm, “Courage! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” (The Message, Mark 6:50)

With thanks to The Rev. Joy Daley, rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Dallas, TX

Justice now as well as then

by Wayne Schwab

This week’s post is a recent podcast featured on The Member Mission Network website:

Welcome to another adventure in love and justice.  I’m Wayne Schwab of the Member Mission Network.  We help people to live better every day.  This time two stories about justice – one from the present, one from the past.

The present day story is about lawyer, Alicia.  She defends criminals.  Each client wants a miracle.  That result is usually unavailable.  So she is under great pressure.  Yet, she never yells or raises her voice with clients or staff.  How does she do it her colleagues and staff ask.  And so do we.  For the answer, a story from the past.

Jesus loved to dine with people who were social outcasts.  Some religious leaders of the Jews were shocked and angry.  In their mind, good Jews were supposed to avoid outcasts.  “Why does he eat with those people! (They were wrong-doers and tax collectors working for the Roman oppressors.)  He’s breaking our laws!”  The religious law governing Israel could be applied unfairly and outcasts could be treated unjustly as a result.  Jesus corrects the injustice by eating with the outcasts over and over.  Jesus says those leaders interpret wrongly.  He is not against the law itself.

Jesus is living God’s justice.  When people’s customs are unfair and abusive, Jesus breaks those customs and laws – even when he angers others so much they want to kill him.

Where does he get the power to befriend social outcasts in the face of threats to his life?  From the Holy Spirit – from God’s power at work in him.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit, God’s power for justice, works in us too!  That’s Alicia’s story.   Criminals are outcasts and Alicia befriends them by taking their cases.  How does she keep her cool?  She says, “God helps me to be patient.  I’ll keep asking God to help me to be patient.”  God supports Alicia’s patience and her clients get a decent defense.  Regardless of the outcome, she has done what she could for justice – with God’s help.

So that’s today’s adventure in justice.

For more, see membermission.org.

Who are we blessing?

Blessing the Backpacks - photo by Moses Leos III, Hays Free Press, Aug. 26, 2015
Blessing the Backpacks – photo by Moses Leos III, Hays Free Press, Aug. 26, 2015

by Fletcher Lowe

Did your congregation recently have a blessing of the backpacks as your students went off to school?  It’s becoming more and more an add-on to our Episcopal Liturgical calendar. Questions come to mind:

  • Were the students themselves and their parents also blessed?
  • What about the teachers and professors and the school administrators and their staffs and the principals and the members of the school and university boards—were they too blessed?

Well, they were blessed at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Chesterfield County, VA.  Those added blessings broaden the backpack “liturgy” to include and affirm those who are giving their God-given time and talent to the all-important educational enterprise.

Soon many congregations will celebrate St. Francis by having a blessing of the animals.

  • What about the “owners’ of those animals—will they, too, be blessed?
  • What about those who work in pet shops and zoos?
  • What about veterinarians and their co-workers?
  • What about SPCA and animal rescue workers and those who provide temporary care and shelter to foster animals?

Will they, too, be blessed and affirmed for their ministries with God’s blessed pets?  I hope so.  If not we are missing a significant teachable moment and opportunity to affirm the calling that people have in their daily life and work.

And then there is

  • Labor Day and
  • Luke’s Day (those in the medical profession) and
  • May 1- Lawyers’ Day and
  • August 15th Mary’s day (parents), etc…

Our Liturgical calendar is filled with opportunities to celebrate and affirm the ministries of the Baptized as they offer their God-given time and talent day by day.

What about Rogation Sunday (the sixth Sunday of Easter) when the means of production not only of farm and fishing but of all of us can be offered up as symbols of our daily life and work?

All of this helps a congregation connect with the real world of those who come in and are fed in order to go out into their worlds of home and community and work, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

Being the church

by Demi Prentiss

Being the church – it takes more than “being nice” or preaching salvation or converting the heathen. “Being the church” means “being the Body of Christ.” A transformative agent in the world. One of a community of followers in the Way of Jesus.

BeingTheChurch-JoyFMFew of us are capable of doing that 24/7. With God’s help, it becomes possible when do what we’re commissioned to do: be disciples. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) gives the orders:

+ “Go” – into the world, not just to church

+ “Disciple” – be one, rather than “make” them

+ “Baptise” – as a sign of being born into a new life, not into membership

+ “Teach” – “at all times,” as St. Francis recommended, adding, “When necessary, use words.”

Jesus isn’t interested in our delivering a product, he’s asking us to be transformed into a new way of being – walking the Way of Jesus. For support, we draw on resources that have been part of the Christian life for millennia – prayer, study, worship, fellowship with other believers. Some of those things are provided in our church communities; all of them are accessible at all times, and in all places.

Let’s go be the church. Let’s change the world.

Salty Christians

by Fletcher LoweSaltcellars

I like to salt my food, sometimes even before I taste it. A little salt gives the vegetables and the salad and the meat a better flavor.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount has called us to be the salt of the earth—note earth, not church. A congregation is called upon therefore to “equip the saints for their ministry” (Eph 4:12), in short to aid us in being “salty Christians.” We are to flavor our environment—our workplaces, our homes, our communities. The Episcopal Church’s Baptism Covenant fleshes that out: Proclaim by word and example…, Seek and serve Christ in all people…, Strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Other faith communities have their equivalent.

The message is clear. We are to use our time and talent as God-given, using our abilities and experiences to bring the values of our faith into our daily lives. We are Christ’s salty ambassadors, exercising our kingdom citizenship in our earthly citizenship. Our oft-repeated Lord’s Prayer puts it this way: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

LIFE IS MINISTRY, or All Ministry is Apostolic, Presbyteral, and Diaconal (Part 2)

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Part 1 of this blog appeared in late March. It maintained that the Book of Common Prayer establishes and asserts that there are four orders of ministry in The Episcopal Church, not just three, all sacramentally grounded in Baptism: lay persons. bishops, priests, and deacons. The sequence is essential in understanding the equality of all ministers and ministry in the Church. Ministry is the holy enterprise of baptized equals who understand that all life is ministry. Being a lay person is being a front line minister Sunday through Saturday, 24/7, 12/365.

The traditional ordained ministries — bishops, priests, and deacons — have, however, through history been regarded as the real ministers of the Gospel and Church. They got locked into that perception and role when the Church for centuries was what historians have called Christendom, an official sanctifier of empire and culture, of state and dominion, an arbiter and player in the halls of power and politics. To some extent it still is, or at least tries to be, even though the Christendom era and aura have waned significantly. The Church is now faced with the task of once again coming to grips with what it means to be baptized, “to be sealed by the Holy Spirit … and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

The Protestant Reformation introduced some key understandings of what the ministries of the baptized ought to be about even though it still clung to Christendom underpinnings. For example, it was Martin Luther who posited the broad ministerial scope of “the priesthood of all believers.” And John Calvin maintained that there is only one ordained ministry, the presbyter, and he (no women back then) was only one voice with lay elders in the governance of the Church. Still, it would be awhile before governance of the Church would not just be something akin to running the institution, as if that constituted ministry; but would begin to understand that real ministry in and for the world that God loves is inaugurated and imparted in Baptism, and is lived and exercised daily from dawn to dusk for a lifetime. All life is ministry and it is a serious vocation.

Let it be argued that the Episcopal/Anglican ordained ministries — bishops, priests, deacons — are still authentic in understanding the Church’s ministry. Yet they originate in Baptism and inform the baptized of how their ministries are apostolic, priestly, and diaconal without having to wear a bishop’s mitre, or a priest’s stole, or bear a deacon’s serving towel. Throughout any given day they manifest all three. Sadly the Church has rarely told them that, much less thanked them. Making these connections will be the subject of my next posting. Stay tuned.

Immersion

by Herbert Donovan

Baptism: The word literally means the action of immersion in water.  A more commonly acceptable meaning, among Episcopalians, is the action of sprinkling with water. Many Christians hold to immersion, as in Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptism, as the most effective way to symbolize our being made clean by God, and clothed in God’s Spirit, for this life and the life to come.  While most of our Prayer Book service assumes the sprinkling or pouring of water, it is interesting to note the rubric, i.e. “direction”, on page 307, where we read that the officiating clergy “immerses, or pours water upon, the candidate”.

A priest tells the story of how he was in the action of sprinkling a baby at Baptism, when an old man in the congregation, on observing his action, spoke out in a loud voice, “”More water!”

God grant that our intentions and actions in services of Holy Baptism, whether as officiants, candidates, Godparents, family or friends, may be to immerse ourselves in God’s healing and strengthening action, that we may live more perfectly as His children, now and forever.

Life Is Ministry —

or All Ministry is Apostolic, Presbyteral, and Diaconal (Part 1)

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

How’s that for a mind-boggling church-y title! But please, keep reading.

First, let’s start with the Book of Common Prayer. Go to page 855 in the Catechism and the section titled, “The Ministry.” It begins:

Q: Who are the ministers of the Church?

A: The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q: What is the ministry of the laity?

A: 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; …

The rest of this section identifies and spells out the particular ministries of bishops, priests, and deacons with such words as “apostle” (bishops); “to bless and declare pardon” (priests/presbyters); and “servant” (deacons).

In short, we are a Church of four orders of ministers, not the traditional three. The first is the laity, the baptized, followed by the ordained ministries of bishops, priests, and deacons. This sequence is one of elemental and essential equality in its understanding of ministry, of Christian discipleship. It’s communal, not hierarchical, and certainly not patriarchal. The primary and front line of ministers are the baptized laity; the baptized ordained persons empower, support, and sustain the laity like, for example, the conductor of an orchestra. Yet the result is always a concert of communal endeavor and commitment, an enterprise of equals. That’s ministry.

Or as expressed insightfully by a perceptive presbyter:

“Life is ministry. Ordained ministry is a role within the ministry of the people of God, and I think we lose our bearings when we see it as something other than facilitating the whole.” (James Callaway, Trinity News, Trinity Church, NYC, Summer 2014)

Amen! Life IS ministry and the baptized laity live it daily in the tasks and on the frontiers of their lives. And it’s as apostolic and presbyteral and diaconal in character and function as that of those facilitating clergy who participate with them in Christ’s relentless yet glorious “work of reconciliation in the world.”

In my next blog (Part 2) I’ll break open those churchy words in the title and illustrate how every person’s ministry is apostolic, presbyteral and diaconal. Stay tuned.