Every worker deserves respect

by Pam Tinsley

An October 13, 2019 New York Times review of Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up, The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor included Greenhouse’s conviction that “all labor that helps humanity has dignity and every worker, no matter how low paid or humble, deserves respect.” I was reminded of two examples of how I’ve seen this lived out within the Church.

The first was when I first began attending our annual Diocesan Convention many years ago, and retired Bishop Sandy Hampton always urged us to tip the hotel employees generously. He reminded us that these employees often had to commute long distances due to the high cost of living in the area where the convention took place, yet they were paid but a paltry minimum wage. They worked hard to ensure that our stay was comfortable and our needs addressed, and their presence often went unnoticed and underappreciated. When Bishop Hampton moved from our diocese, our own Bishop Greg Rickel continued the call for generous giving to thank hotel employees. Both bishops taught me a lot about the importance of generous gratuities – signs of gratitude – for the work others perform for us.

Then last year I attended a conference that took recognition of hotel employees a step further. At the end of the conference, the emcee invited to the platform all of the staff who had served us in the conference room. He reminded us that these individuals had cared for us throughout the conference. They had served our meals, removed our empty plates, noticed when our water pitchers needed to be refilled. And they did so without drawing attention to themselves. It was easy for us to miss their actions. It was easy for us to not see them at all. For that reason, the emcee felt that it was all the more necessary that we see their faces and collectively honor them for their hard work.

Both of these are examples of ways we respect the personal dignity of others and the dignity of their work. After all, not only does our work matter to God, but so, too, does how we treat one another.

Equipped for what?

by Fletcher Lowe

“…that we might receive a faithful pastor who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries….”  Parish transition prayer (bold mine)

Victorinox Swiss Champ XLT Pocket Knife

The congregation which my wife and I attend is in the search process for a new rector. Every Sunday in services and hopefully privately during the week, we offer prayer for the search, a phrase from which is quoted above. It is my hope and prayer that she/he will see “equipping us for our ministries” as a top priority.  All too often rectors get caught up in their own ministry of running a parish and fail to help empower the laity in their own ministries – the every-day, daily-life ministries, in particular. After all, don’t we go to church in order to be the church?

This past Holy Week underscored that for me in a new way. On Maundy Thursday at noon the bishop led the diocesan clergy in the service of Reaffirmation of Ordination Vows. Not only did we have the servant example of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet, but the collect spoke directly: Give your grace…to all who are called to any office and ministry…. This came as a reminder that all the Baptized are called to ministry.

At the Easter Vigil we affirmed that calling as the baptized in our daily lives as we renewed our Baptismal Vows to proclaim, seek and serve, strive….

The collect for the second Sunday of Easter puts it another way:  Grant that all who are reborn (Baptized) into the fellowship of Christ’s Body, may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith….

The message is clear: Vocation and ministry are the province of all the Baptized, not just the clergy, that each one of us has a calling that we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith….

As we do, our faith hits the street, our liturgy meets our life, our Sunday connects with our Monday.  That’s why the Dismissal is the most important part of our liturgy.  What else is the music and the readings and the prayers and the sermon and the bread and wine for but to equip us for our ministries beyond the church doors.

Holding tank to base camp

by Jennifer Woodruff-Tait

We’ve been having a thought-provoking series here recently on how to change your congregation’s system to produce a church where all the members know, and behave, as though they are sent on mission. (It was sparked by this post by A. Wayne Schwab, which you may want to keep close by for reference.)

Tents at the base camp, Susunia Hill, Bankura, West Bengal, at Basic Rock Climbing Course by MAK (Mountaineers Association of Krishnanagar)

One important piece of changing the system is the church’s leadership. Basically, the leadership needs to help determine what needs changing, redesign the ministries they lead in order to produce the change, and be accountable to someone for the change. This applies to those whose leadership we immediately think of, such as the vestry or the minister of music or the director of Christian education. But it also applies to influential people within the church even if they hold no formal position. (My father, a retired United Methodist pastor and denominational bureaucrat, likes to quip “You know why they call certain people pillars of the church? Because they hold things up.”)

Bears Bluff NFH volunteer nets a large cobia out of a temporary holding tank. Credit: USFWS Image

Whether they are official or unofficial leaders, many in church leadership are working within a paradigm where mission is seen as solely or primarily the job of paid staff. If they have a full-time priest and church staff, they expect those people to do the mission of the church; if they are (as many Episcopal parishes are) small churches who can no longer support full-time staff, they yearn for the day when they might have full-time staff again. This produces a “holding tank” church system that waits around for something to happen, instead of a base camp system equipping people to infect their communities with the love of Jesus right now.

How do we get the church leadership on board to move from holding tank to base camp? Church people have been wrestling with this question for years, and it is a question deeply intertwined with the fraught mood of our current society. We are the middle of a huge paradigm shift from church-as-business-as-usual to church-as-a-chosen-and-commissioned-way-of-life. Congregations–especially white, middle-class congregations–may feel that holding on to a priest-central model will keep them connected to their particular “good old days,” and read any change as being deeply threatening.

The important thing to remember here is that while the priest is the sacramental center of the congregation, this does not mean that he or she needs to be in the center of every ministry the Eucharist makes possible.  The Eucharist is the heart of the worshiping community, and the priest is needed to make Eucharist. But through the grace of God, that Eucharist is meant to strengthen all who worship so that they can be about the mission of God in the world. As the catechism reminds us: “The ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons” and the ministry of the laity is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be”  (BCP, p. 855).

So: whatever your place in the system, begin building trust with those around you, especially those in leadership. And once trust is built, begin raising hard questions about whether you are a base camp or a holding tank. When a church’s leadership is sold on a vision of every member in ministry, commissioned by their baptism and empowered by the Eucharist, the rest of the system will become easier to shift.

More on congregational systems

by Fletcher Lowe

I live in Richmond, VA, a reasonably large metropolitan area.  There are several Episcopal churches from which people can choose.  The congregation that I rectored several years ago made a conscious identity decision—to be known for its creative liturgy and for its community and international outreach.  To make that happen, the system of our congregational life was molded to affect that.  That meant having a liturgy team that could think out of the box.  It meant taking some initiative both toward community needs and international connections.

Every congregation makes decisions about its identity, some conscious, others not so. It has a system that is designed to produce certain results. The systemic question is, going back to the earlier discussion of 2 blogs ago, is your mission statement where your congregational system is?  The actual mission statement may be something that is unwritten, but really lived into—different from the one stated, yet securely at the heart of a congregation’s life. It’s how that congregation really functions and operates, its modus operandi. For example, a congregation’s mission statement may read that it believes in lay ministry, but practically its system only prepares/trains/honors laity who serve/minister in the congregation, e.g. lay eucharistic ministers, church school teachers, altar guild members.

So let’s take a congregation that really wants to live into a mission statement to empower the 99%, the lay folks, in their daily lives—the lives they live outside the church walls. Then conscious decisions are made in terms of its liturgy, pastoral care, communication, and formation which support that decision.  For example, in liturgy, how do the Sunday- and week-day- liturgies enhance the calling of all the Baptized. Through sermons, prayers of the people, the Dismissal?  On occasion are there liturgies or litanies that recognize the lay members in their work? Are there frequent Ministry Moments when congregants share their Sunday-Monday connection?  Depending on the congregation’s past, this may mean a systemic change.  But engaging with the questions makes clear the congregation’s desire to match its mission statement with its actual systemic actions.

The truth remains: A congregation’s system, not its statements, is what produces the kinds of members who fulfill that system.

So how do we redesign a congregation’s system?  Stay tuned.

Making your mission statement count

By Wayne Schwab

What’s your church’s mission statement?

“Everybody knows it is to live the baptismal covenant!”   [Every church has some form of promises it asks of new members.]

Is that enough?  Does it really get into behavior?  Does it really get into what members actually do to make the world a better place?

In the Episcopal Church, the covenant is one and a third pages long (BCP pp. 304-5). The full page is about belief, regular worship, repentance for wrongdoing and return to the Lord.

Only a third of a page is about life in the world – about living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, loving your neighbor as yourself, working for peace and justice, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

How much the world needs members living that third of a page 24/7/365!  How much it needs members trying to live with love and justice wherever they are all the time!

That’s what your church’s mission statement should be about.

That means the primary purpose or mission statement of a church should be to help its members to live better every day.

What does such a mission statement look like?  Here is a short one for starters.

First Methodist / Annunciation Lutheran / Trinity Episcopal Church exists to support its members in their daily living as Christians.

Where do we find God’s kingdom?

by Fletcher Lowe

Several years ago, a friend of mine came to me and said that she felt a call to go to another country as a missionary.  In our conversation, I suggested that she spend a few weeks considering her current place as a teacher to be her mission field.  Later she came back with a new understanding.  She stayed in our city and developed a deep sense of calling with her teaching profession.

Kristina Muñoz, Aviano Elementary School gifted education teacher, watches students participate in a group exercise. Her passion is to help students learn and grow. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Bell/Released)

Perhaps that was what Jesus was trying to say to his 12 apostles in Matthew 9:5-7. He was explicit – Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, rather go to the lost house of Israel.  As you GO, proclaim the good news: the kingdom of heaven is near. In short GO, but go to your own familiar territory. Now for some like Barnabas and Paul and countless others over the centuries, going to another place has been a calling.  But for most Jesus followers including you and me, our calling is right here.

We need to hear Jesus speaking to you and me where we live and move and have our being – namely our places of work, our communities and our homes.  You and I are called to GO there, to proclaim the good news: the kingdom. of heaven is near. If that sounds a bit grandiose and vague, let’s put some flesh on it.  Think the Baptismal Covenant.  It is our commissioning as the Baptized.  It spells out how we as the Baptized are to live into our Baptism daily, or in Jesus’ words: how we are to go to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near.

Think about this for a moment:  Every time that you and I

  • Proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves;
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being,

we are helping the kingdom to break through into real life.

The Lord’s Prayer reminds us: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.  Whenever we do that “everyday” work – proclaim, love, seek and serve, strive, respect – we join forces with God in bringing God’s kingdom on earth.  So, let us GO forth into our worlds of home and work and community rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Alleluia.

Why do congregations exist?

by Peyton G. Craighill

Why do congregations exist? In America, the members of congregations generally assume their congregations exist primarily to put on worship services on Sunday. And the success of the congregations is measured in terms of how many worshipers they are able to attract on Sundays. They also assume that their power to attract and hold members depends on their ability to produce programs that meet the spiritual and social needs of their members. The most successful congregations are those with the most attractive power.

The problem with these assumptions is that they ignore why God created – and continues to create – congregations. The Church came into being when God sent his Son into the world to live, die, and rise again for that world, and Christ commissioned his followers jan_luykens_jesus_20-_the_apostles_sent_out-_phillip_medhurst_collectionto spread the Good News of God’s love and justice through word and action “into all the world”! The Church exists not primarily to attract people into congregations but to send people out to share with God in his mission in all areas of their daily life. When we were baptized into Christ, he commissioned us all to participate with him in his mission, Monday through Sunday.

The paradigm shift from an attractional to a sending model of congregational ministry calls for a major reconsideration of every aspect of church life – worship, formation, community, and service. Mission is no longer on the periphery of church life. Mission is why congregations exist! Parish programs need to be rethought in terms not only of the corporate life of congregations, but also in terms of how they inspire, guide, and support each member in his or her missions in all areas of daily life – home, work, leisure, community, church, and the wider world.

In regard to the missional church movement in the Episcopal Church, what sets our approach apart from other Churches, is our emphasis on baptism and the baptismal covenant. As Christ’s mission began with his baptism, so too our mission, shared with Christ, begins with our baptism! In particular, the nine commitments we make in the Baptismal Covenant provide us with invaluable inspiration and guidance for our missions in Christ in our daily lives.

We recognize of course, that, in mission-oriented congregations, attraction remains an important part of our ministry. Unless congregations attract members in, there will be no missionaries to send out. But attraction is subordinated to sending. Indeed, the best way to attract people into congregations is when those congregations inspire and support all their members to live out their faith in their everyday lives.

Confirmands who ‘get it’

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

As a retired bishop (Western Michigan) who is an assisting bishop in the diocese where I now reside (Pennsylvania) I make Sunday parish visitations twice a month on behalf of the bishop of the diocese. This means I have the privilege and pleasure of presiding and preaching at services that usually include baptisms and confirmations. When this occurs, my episcopal heart is deeply gladdened. The opportunity to explore and illustrate the ministry in daily life that is everyone’s by virtue of their baptism is a task to be treasured.

In some parishes candidates for confirmation, usually teenagers, are asked to write a letter to the bishop explaining why they want to be confirmed. It should be noted that this comes at the end of at least a year-long program of significant preparation. It’s clear that the parish, priest, and candidates are serious about what it means to be baptized and to be the church’s first and foremost frontline of ministers and ministry in the world.

This past spring I received two sets of letters. None were frivolous or glib. All were conscientious and insightful. Here are some passages that reflect what the confirmands understand to be their baptismal lives and living.

“Confirmation will take me another step further in my faith journey, which will continue the rest of my life. I have a lot to look forward to.”

 

“I have reached the age where it comes time for me to make my own decisions about my future. My first and most important decision, however, is not deciding on what college I want to go to. Rather, it’s the decision to affirm my Christian faith.”

 

“I approach confirmation in a certain mindset. I will be moving forward knowing that this is my decision and now my responsibility to continue in my faith journey. Most of all I remember this: Baptism is having someone else devote you to God, and confirmation is you devoting yourself to God.”

 

“… when you get confirmed you get to feel you are more connected to God. Since you get confirmed you feel God is more a part of your life. It is the adult affirmation of the baptismal vows.”

 

“I want to be confirmed because I am ready to take responsibility at church like I do at home and at school. The activities I like to take part in are help with the homeless, animals, and veterans.”

These are samples of other letters just like them that I received. These young Christians are “getting it.” They are getting to know and realize what it means to be baptized, to be a minister, to be a disciple!

3 ministers, 1 covenant – Ministry where it matters

by Pam Tinsley

A woman I know is a minister at a public school where she is a preschool teacher. Two others, a mother and her adult daughter, are ministers at their local public high school where they coach cheerleading.

Sue*, the preschool teacher, tells me that the most important concepts she teaches her tender charges are the assurance that they are loved and respected and that they need to treat one another with love and respect. Because it is a public school, she doesn’t use church language. Nonetheless, intentionally teaching these values from our Baptismal Covenant are at the heart of who Sue is as teacher, friend, mother, wife, and citizen. She strives to instill these core Christian values in children at an early age in the hope that love and mutual respect will shape them as they grow.

Cheerleading coaches Denise* and Jennifer* mentor girls at an older, even more vulnerable age. They, too, model and teach respect and dignity – with love. All three of these women intentionally join Jesus every day where they work and volunteer.

Sue, Denise, and Jennifer were commissioned to serve in their respective ministries – their vocations – by virtue of their baptism. Baptism commissions them to proclaim the Good News by word and example in their daily lives, to seek and to serve Christ in all others – and with love. Their training for baptismal ministry came from within their church communities and began when they realized that baptism is about daily life and not limited to Sunday worship or service inside the church.

Sue, Denise, and Jennifer also freely acknowledge that their ministry at times can be challenging – especially in an environment that is all too focused on individualism. That’s why these women regularly seek out “continuing education” in their church communities, with Sunday worship and from small prayer groups and church ministries, to find support for their vital work with young people Monday through Saturday. Rather than viewing their church communities as where their ministry takes place, they understand their church communities as base camps that provision and support them for their daily treks with Christ into the secular world where they live and work – serving Christ and others.

*Not their real names.

Markings for the Baptismal Journey

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Here are several pertinent quotations for the journey of baptismal ministry in daily life.

“I believe that hope is awakened and revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. Each and every person, on the foundations of their own sufferings and joys, builds for all.” Albert Camus

To the question, What Does Love Mean?, come these responses by children:

“When someone loves you the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” Nikka, age 6

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8

“The role I see for Christianity is not that we’re to make all the world Christians. We are to serve the whole world, to bring it into brotherhood and sisterhood. Action on behalf of social transformation is such an essential part of being a disciple. It’s so essential that if it’s not there, we run the risk of religion declining into religiosity. What should be dynamite can become opium.” Fr. Niall O’Brien

“True liberation is freeing people from the bonds that have prevented them from giving their gifts to others.” Henri Nouwen

And finally:

“The Christian’s task is to so enjoy the Word in the world as to attest the veracity of the Word of God for all people in any and every event.” William Stringfellow