I had a conversation recently with a woman who was interested in serving on the team for an upcoming Come and See, Go and Tell weekend. Because Come and See is the Diocese of Olympia’s expression of the Cursillo Ministry, I was explaining the changes our diocese had made to the weekend to emphasize living out our baptismal promises in daily life. As I described the new focus, her eyes lit up!
You see, Kathleen is a retired middle school teacher, one of those teachers for whom I have a great deal of respect, given the complexity of teaching adolescents. She shared with me several stories of how she strived to be Christ-centered in her public school classrooms – without intentionally mentioning religion. Often she would seek a moment of peace from God by closing her eyes and praying. If a student asked what she was doing, she was open and honest: “I’m praying,” she would say. Sometimes, a student might respond by asking her to pray for them or for a something that was weighing on their heart. If a student used Jesus’ name as an exclamation, she would ask, “What about Jesus?” Her intent was to model Christlike behavior and to share a bit of Christ’s peace in a secular environment.
Kathleen called the heart of her baptismal ministry FROG. “Frog?” I asked. “Yes, FROG: Fully Rely On God.” She graced her home and classroom with images and figurines of frogs. Whenever anyone asked about her frogs, she said that they reminded her to fully rely on God – always. FROG Power carries her through life!
The Theology of Work Project website is a blessing to many of us, offering a blog, Bible commentary, devotionals, and lots of resources for people who try, daily, to bring Jesus to work with them – whether that work is unpaid, paid, volunteer, barter, or involuntary. A recent ToW blog post invited readers to pay attention to whether their words are a blessing or a curse to the people around them. The writer invited us to reflect on whether our words participate in God’s work of reconciliation.
The blog offered five instances where our words might be a blessing:
Eliminating blame shifting
Reconciling broken relationships
Taking care not to judge
Looking beyond that list, there are ways that our words can, without sermonizing, witness to the sacramental presence of Christ in our work:
Claiming our work for the common good – “It’s important for each of us to contribute and each of us to do our best. That’s what makes our team strong and our work rewarding.”
Encouraging – “Let’s take a fifteen-minute break and then get this section finished so we’ll be ahead of the game tomorrow.”
Claiming grace – “Well, I sure wish we hadn’t made that mistake. Now that we’ve figured out how to do better, let’s support each other so we can move forward.”
Expressing joy – “Wow! What a great day. I wouldn’t trade anything for seeing how happy Mrs. Smith was with our work.”
We don’t need to think we’re bringing God to our work – God’s already there, ahead of us. We claim the blessing of our work by noticing where the Spirit is moving and by participating in every way we can.
On May 9 I observed the 60th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate of The Episcopal Church. The same for the priesthood will be observed on November 14. As for the episcopate, it will be my 30th anniversary on October 7. Collectively they represent a full lifetime of ordained ministry and leadership in the church. In memory and experience they are richly indelible.
However, one other tally is missing in the above years of service. It’s the one that undergirds the others. The Prayer Book’s Catechism on page 855 informs us that the sequence of ministers and ministry in the church, not its hierarchy of clergy, are “lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.” This means my life in ministry in the church began when I was baptized not ordained. So on June 23 I will remember and celebrate the 84th anniversary of my baptism. Truth be told, it’s taken me quite awhile to make that observance as indelible as the others: baptism as the first order of ministry in the church, not bishops nor priests nor deacons.
Over the years this recognition of sequence and not hierarchy of ministers has shaped my understanding of the church as a community of fully graced baptized equals and not a top down organization of spiritual and sacramental unequals.
For me the realization of this pattern of community occurred when I was chairing one of those annual organizational planning meetings that parishes and dioceses, and their vestries and councils, regularly conduct to envision and carry out their common life and mission. It entailed the usual brainstorming and posting of ideas and comments on newsprint.
In this case it was the diocese of my episcopacy and there were pages upon pages of newsprint taped on the walls throughout the meeting room. “How do we see ourselves as the church?” was the question to explore. And the image that was most common to much of the thinking was the triangle, and on the newsprint pages it was always visually vertical. At the peak point of the triangle was, of course, the bishop. Below that ministry came a middle rank of ordained clergy. And below them came the laity. This image of church was invariably three-tiered with me at the top, the other clergy next in line, and the laity at the bottom. Very hierarchical. Very authoritarian. Very Episcopalian. Just the opposite of the Prayer Book’s sequence of ministers.
It was at one such meeting that I had my newsprint epiphany. Rather than looking at the triangle vertically why not view it horizontally. To demonstrate this, I took down one of the newsprint pages and laid it flat on the table in front of us. From that vantage point all of the church’s ministers were now on a common playing field, all baptismally equal, a community of shared authority and accountability, of collaboration and consensus, of mutual responsibility and interdependence. In short, an authentic movement and community as revealed and mandated by Christ.
Here then is another image for ministers and ministry in daily life, gathered as a base camp and encircled and embraced by the triangular arms of the Trinity in “whom we live and move and have our being,” and sent forth to love and serve the world as Christ has loved and served us.
“…that we might receive a faithful pastor who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries….” Parish transition prayer (bold mine)
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.
A year ago I blogged about the ministry of Toby the Therapy Dog. For years, Toby, a gentle giant of a St. Bernard, and his person Stan have brought joy and comfort to nursing facility residents and have helped reduce anxiety in waiting rooms of emergency rooms. Toby warmed the hearts of parents and children alike in our regional children’s hospital as young patients nuzzled their faces in his fur, crawled over him, or simply snuggled with him. Stan combined his love for dogs, his love for Christ, and his passion for caring to offer peace and healing to others.
I was sad to learn that Toby suffered a stroke and passed away during emergency surgery early this month. The outpouring of love from the communities Toby served is a testimony to the impact his and Stan’s ministry has had on others.
The exciting news is that Toby’s legacy lives on! A week after Toby’s stroke, I met Stevie, a friendly golden retriever, as I left the hospital after a visit. Stan had founded Toby’s Therapy Dogs to train a team of therapy dogs, and Toby had mentored Stevie. Stevie has achieved Novice Therapy Dog status after having completed ten visits to nursing homes! And although the initial plan was to build a local therapy dog team, it has quickly expanded to include a chapter in Wisconsin and beyond. All to continue to honor Toby and to carry on his ministry!
When I think of how quickly Toby’s legacy is spreading, I’m reminded of Kurt Kaiser’s hymn, Pass it On:
“It only takes a spark
To get a fire going,
And soon all those around
Can warm up in its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread His love to ev’ryone,
You want to pass it on.”
Stan’s ministry with Toby started small – just a spark in a seemingly dark world – and is expanding day-by-day thanks to Stan’s faith and his commitment. To learn more about Stan and Toby’s ministry, visit his Facebook page: Toby the Therapy Dog.
A reflection on Sacredspace.ie recently reminded me that God is present in all that I do, in the people I meet, and in the midst of each situation I’m in. Over the past several weeks, this has been particularly driven home for me.
Our family received the gift of God’s ongoing love during an extended hospitalization – though at the other end of the age spectrum from what fellow Living God’s Mission blogger Fletcher Lowe described several weeks ago. Serious pregnancy complications resulted in our daughter-in-law’s month-long hospitalization. In the midst of a record-breaking snowstorm and freeze, our granddaughter, Sienna, made her appearance – nine weeks early!
Parenting a newborn isn’t easy, and parenting a preemie calls for the support of community, not the least of which are the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) healthcare providers. I marveled at their love and commitment as they braved severe weather conditions to care for Sienna and the other preemies. I also marvel at their choice of vocation to tenderly care for these tiny, delicate infants with equally tiny PICC lines, feeding tubes, and blood pressure cuffs. The devotion of Sienna’s nurses has transformed her room into a physically and spiritually nurturing sacred space. And several have shared that they pray for their little charges, as well as how their faith shapes their vocation, in other words, their baptismal ministry.
Strengthened by prayer in the midst of so many joys and fears, hopes and tears, we watch our son and daughter-in-law being transformed by God’s love and grace into loving parents. And they bear witness to Christ’s love in all that they do and say. Sienna and her parents are part of yet another family – the NICU family – and when she eventually graduates from the NICU, she and her parents will not only continue to have the support of those who’ve journeyed with them, but they will also support other preemie families – and share how Jesus was present in all that they experienced as they walked through this storm of uncertainty and danger to mother and daughter.
With the passage of Resolution C005, General Convention earlier this year created the Task Force on Formation and Ministry of the Baptized. That group of 12 Episcopalians have been charged to “identify or develop curricula, practices, and strategies that can be used by dioceses and congregations to encourage and engage all the baptized in the work of building up the church by identifying their gifts for ministry, employing their gifts for ministry, and focusing on full engagement of their ministries in daily life, work, and leisure.” The task force is charged with recommending to the 2021 General Convention “strategies for the affirmation, development, and exercise of ministry by all baptized persons in the areas of gifts discernment, education and training for ministry, and leadership development.”
This work of recognizing, celebrating, and engaging the laity as equal and essential partners in ministry is not limited to The Episcopal Church. Back in 2017, the Church of England launched a new program called “Setting God’s People Free” (SGPF), aimed at equipping all the children of God to live the Good News of Jesus with confidence and joy, in every aspect of their lives, Sunday to Saturday. Implementing the program means shifting the life of the church – every aspect of church culture – to focus on the whole people of God, living their lives in homes, schools, communities, and places of work, as well as the church.
The program originated in proposals from the Setting God’s People Free report written for the Archbishop’s Council and presented to Church of England’s General Synod in 2017. As one element of the C of E’s “Renewal and Reform” process, SGFP offers a series of practical resources for Monday to Saturday practices that support each church, and aim for a cultural transformation.
SGPF looks beyond and outside Church structures to the whole people of God at work in communities and wider society – not to ‘fixing’ the institutional Church.
SGPF challenges a culture that over-emphasizes a distinction between sacred and secular to a fuller vision of calling within the all-encompassing scope of the Gospel – not to limit vocation to church based roles.
SGPF seeks to affirm and enable the complementary roles and vocations of clergy and of lay people, grounded in our common baptism – not to blur or undermine these distinctions.
SGPF proposes imaginative steps to nourish, illuminate and connect what is working already in and through parishes and communities of faith – not to institute a top-down approach.
Only a year into implementation, the effects of SGFP are hard to gauge. The peer review process that is also a part of the Renewal and Reform is in its second year, and aims to facilitate shared learning as well as mutual accountability among participating dioceses.
The work of our fellow Anglicans in implementing SGFP can inform and enrich the work of the newly appointed TEC task force. Stay tuned as the TEC task force – which I am honored to be a part of – embarks on its work.
With belated birthday wishes to J.K. Rowling and to Harry Potter, I’m posting this because of what it has to say about the meaning of baptism. With permission, I’m re-posting a Facebook entry from the Rev. Patricia Lyons, famed for celebrating the mysteries of Hogwarts. Here’s what she offered on July 31:
July 31st…a day for Birthdays and Baptism
Happy Birthday JK Rowling and Happy Birthday Harry Potter.
[July 31] is a special day for both the Harry Potter fandom and for anyone in that fandom who has been or might be baptized. For those folks, today is more special than you might realize.
Everyone knows that Harry’s best birthday present came just a few minutes into his eleventh birthday (July 31,1991) along with a cake from his newest friend and fan Rubeus Hagrid. Hagrid handed Harry his Hogwarts acceptance letter — the proof in writing of Harry’s magical identity and miraculous destiny.
But what many people do not know is that when JK Rowling was nine years — until around 12 years old – she had a Saturday job cleaning the Anglican Church down the road from her house. She and her sister were paid one British pound each week to clean up the church and prepare it for Sunday worship. Joanne fell in love with that church, the sight and smells of candles, the stories depicted in its colorful windows and the words of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer that she re-organized in the pews every week.
According to Rowling, after a few years of cleaning the church, she wanted desperately to join it. Although her family practiced no religion, Rowling presented herself to the priest to be baptized. She wanted to be a member of the Christian faith. Her parents did not object and Joanne Rowling was baptized at the font of St. Luke’s church.
For those of you who wonder how impactful that baptism was on her life and her imagination, consider this: Joanne Rowling was baptized on her 11th birthday. So she shares with Harry not only an annual birthday, but they also share the experience of their eleventh birthday as a day that revealed magical identity and miraculous destiny. Rowling has never commented on the fact that her baptism and the reception of a Hogwarts Letter both come on one’s 11th birthday. Rowling is one of the most intentional writers of our time, so the thought that there is no symbolism in a Hogwarts Letter arriving on the age of her baptism is hard to believe. I trust she wants us to think of the identity that opens for us at baptism as easily and truly as opening a life-changing letter on our birthday.
Just like the Snitch, every baptized soul will open at the close.
Adolph Eichmann, one of the Nazi officials who supervised the murder of countless human beings during the Nazi regime, was blinded by a systemic effort to eradicate certain groups of people. God was not a part of his equation.
Unlike Eichmann, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were each confronted by a system of laws that was unjust, and each had their eyes opened, factoring God into the equation of their lives.
So too with Jesus. He and the Pharisees had an ongoing conflict. One of many contentious occasions (Mark 2:23-3:6) focused on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were guardians of an intricate system of laws governing the Sabbath. To some extent they had reduced the practice of religion to following a set of laws. But here comes Jesus in a bit of civil disobedience, helping his followers glean the grain fields to resolve their hunger. Then Jesus goes on to restore a man’s withered hand. Both events took place on the Sabbath, contrary to Sabbath laws. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus was not blind to human need – he was factoring his own divinity into the equation of his daily life.
During my ordained life part of my pastoral ministry has been to visit members in their places of work. The conversation begins with what do you do here. Then the second question: What is the faith connection with what you do here, the Sunday-Monday connection? I must tell you that for the vast majority – like 85% – this is the first time that that question has come to their consciousness. What an indictment of the church! For that work place is where they are spending most of their God-given time and ability. After some continuing conversation, most come to an “aha”: Their eyes open and they begin to see that their work – as a contract lawyer or a mortgage broker or a governmental official or a homemaker – is indeed their baptismal ministry. The “aha” comes as they factor God into the equation of their daily life and work.
The question is the same for each of us – for you and for me: How do we, as the Baptized, factor God into the equation of our daily lives?