In the nearer presence of God: Peyton Craighill

The Rev. Peyton Craighill, preaching during his 2012 visit to St. James’ Episcopal Church, in Taichung City, Taiwan.

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

On June 4 Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM) and the church at large said a prayerful and grateful good-bye to a dear friend, colleague, and collaborator in the furthering of God’s mission and Christ’s ministry in the world. Peyton Craighill was in his 89th year of baptismal life and living when he died. He was a priest, a missionary, a teacher, a China scholar, and in his later professional years a relentless advocate  for the recognition and affirmation of the daily ministries of every baptized person in the church. He was unequivocal: Mission and ministry are grounded in baptism, not ordination.
Long before “ministry in daily life” or “total ministry” or “servant leadership” or “baptismal ministry” became common parlance  in the discussions and descriptions of the church’s mission and ministry, Peyton was quietly and carefully articulating their meaning as the church began shifting into what he called “a new paradigm for the practice of mission and ministry that the church is experiencing today.”
In 2003 he outlined this shift in a one-page document that he used to help church members understand how essential they were in God’s mission by virtue of their baptism. In his own words here are some of Peyton’s succinct and cogent explanations:
Baptismal ministry – ministry based primarily on baptism and living the baptismal covenant, and not on ordination.
Ministry in daily life – daily life recognized as the primary  arena for ministry, with parish activities as the context for the support of those ministries.
Total ministry – ministry organized on the principle of the communal sharing of all members in the church’s ministry rather then based on a top-down, clergy dominated model.
Servant leadership – communal structures of power and authority based on mutual sharing and servanthood in place of authoritarian patterns of clerical control.
Evangelism – practiced in a new spirit, not of manipulative imposition, but of sharing and loving service.
Incarnational spirituality – practiced not as an escape from the world into a private relationship with Jesus but as a spirituality experienced as corporate as well as personal, in all secular as well as sacred contexts.”
And one on “secular theology” I especially appreciated: “Theology focused on God’s presence in the whole of creation rather than primarily on the church; Christ, not as a judgmental Lord or as a private companion, but as an abiding presence in all the world’s activities; the Spirit at work implicity in all the affairs of the world as well as  explicitly in contexts in which God is recognized and named.”
Peyton Craighill’s voice is now stilled but his legacy, along with his many other skills and accomplishments, is the articulation and advocacy of ministry in daily life rooted in our baptisms. The church is the beneficiary of that legacy. Thank you good friend.
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Choosing sides?

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino

by Fletcher Lowe

Mary and Martha: Remember them?  They were with their brother Lazarus when he died and was raised from the dead by Jesus.  At that point Martha exclaimed: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – one of the strongest affirmations of Jesus in the entire New Testament. We later find them at home with Mary at Jesus’ feet listening attentively to his words while Martha is busy at work in the kitchen getting dinner ready. In her frustration Martha confronts Jesus and Mary, aggravated by Mary’s lack of help.  Jesus’ response calls out Martha’s many distractions and worries: “There is one thing necessary, and Mary has chosen the better part.” Amidst her busy work, Martha had lost that focus she had when her brother was raised. Is this a case of either/or, either contemplation or action? Or can it be both/and?

Several years ago, my wife and I worked with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity in East Africa and Calcutta, India.  Theirs was very  much a Martha world: Hard work emotionally, physically, spiritually.  But it was balanced by their Mary: Early morning Eucharist, communal noontime and close of the day prayers, not to mention the individual spontaneous prayers said for those they were caring for. Their Martha busyness was balanced t by their Mary devotion.

Is that not our calling as well? We are very much Martha people.  We live busy lives in a busy world.  We multitask and check our smart phones for the next thing to do. It is easy for us to lose our Mary focus. But we have – and can expand – that Mary side. We honor her Jesus focus by corporate prayer on Sundays and other times during the week, as well as our individual prayer on a regular basis.  Then there are those spontaneous times: Putting the pause on the car radio to briefly say a word to God, or while watching the TV news and giving thanks for the Apollo 11’s safe moon landing and return, or offering a prayer of concern for those in distress.  And pausing to smell a flower or listen to a bird’s song or give thanks for a butterfly: Mary moments amidst our Martha lives. So the Mary/Martha story is not an either/or but a reminder for each of us in our busy daily Martha lives at home and community and work to honor our Mary side in our Christian journey.

Love in the workplace

by Demi Prentiss

In May 2019 the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry was interviewed by Harvard Business Review.   The focus of the interview was Bishop Curry’s consistent message of love and unity at a time of deep division.

His message about dealing with people in our daily lives – particularly in our workplaces – speaks to the vocation of being a Christian – walking our talk. He champions servant leadership in a time when polarization and self-dealing seem to have become routinely expected.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry http://www.episcopalchurch.org

Interviewer Ania G. Wieckowski: How do you encourage people to bring love into their workplaces?

Bishop Curry: In the past couple years I’ve started thinking of love less as a sentiment and more as a commitment to a way of being with others. As a sentiment, love is more about what I’m getting out of it than what you’re getting out of it. But as a commitment, love means I’m seeking your self-interest as well as my own—and maybe above and beyond mine. That kind of unselfishness is actually how Jesus talked about love most of the time in the New Testament—the Greek word that’s used is agape. That’s the kind of love you see in a person who has done something selfless for you and affected your life for the good: a parent, teacher, Scout leader, or coach. Take that further and you realize that there has been no social good that’s been intentionally done apart from this kind of love. We don’t give people Nobel Peace prizes for selfishness. We recognize those people because they’ve given of themselves without counting the cost to themselves. So, I’ve been playing with the mantra: Is the action I’m contemplating selfish or selfless? I invite folks to just ask that question throughout the day: Selfish or selfless?

Bishop Curry invites us to a simple practice of examining our behavior by asking ourselves whose Way are we walking? What does our baptism really mean? Are we being loving, liberating, and life-giving? Selfish or selfless?

Just a Christian

by Matthew B. Harper

“What is your ministry?”

As I have worked my way through the church’s discernment process, I have struggled when someone asks me this. And it gets asked a lot.

It is a good question because it seeks to understand my role in community, and how I view my relationship with others and my calling from God. But it is also a terrible question, because it is asking me to take the calling of my heart and distill it into something that can fit on a resume.

Isn’t it enough of an answer just to say, “I’m a Christian”?

A simple statement of identity should ground all of us as ministers of the gospel. As Christians we all HAVE a ministry. Some people are very deliberate in what they do, and some lucky few make a living doing it, but each and every one of us is a minister making their way in the world. As such, everything we do IS our ministry. Maybe it’s a big, loud, front-and-center ministry, and maybe it’s a quiet and diligent ministry. Maybe we are preaching to a congregation or leading a huge public charity, and maybe we are just being kind, honest, and decent to the people we see every day. Maybe we teach children or we sell cars, but even if we can’t talk about God to others, we are loving them through our words and actions.

Whatever it looks like, it’s kingdom work.

Preaching, teaching, leading music in worship, these things are easy to identify as my “ministry.” But when I hug and encourage Chris in the chow hall, or help Kenny find a book in the library, when I show Charles how to do something in class, or spend a recreation period walking, talking, and listening to Brad – these things are also ministry. I don’t plan them, or categorize them; I am just trying to do the right things, the Christian things, in each situation. These are concrete actions where the gospel of grace is being manifest through my life.

Ministry.

Sometimes those momentary opportunities have spawned plans and actions still going strong years later, other times it’s just a hug and a smile and we all keep moving. All of them matter.

Trying to keep track of them as if to check boxes on my “Christian resumé” somehow cheapens them. And whatever happened to the right hand not letting the left hand in on the secret?

I am a Christian, nothing more or less (and not always a great one), trying hard to live in grace in this place, at this moment, open to the leading of the spirit.

If I put that on my resume it’s going to be a short document, but it will still say a lot. Maybe that’s enough?

Living God’s Mission is honored to feature this blog post, written by Matthew B. Harper, a resident in a Virginia prison.

FROG Power in daily life

by Pam Tinsley

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!

‘Jesus was here’

By Demi Prentiss

https://www.facebook.com/gleamusa/photos/a.1877699449116315/2349345741951681?type=3&sfns=mo

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:

      • Expressing welcome
      • Eliminating blame shifting
      • Reconciling broken relationships
      • Taking care not to judge
      • Showing appreciation

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.

Newsprint Epiphany

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

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.

The Church: “…gathered as a base camp and encircled and embraced by the triangular arms of the Trinity….

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.

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.

Pass it on: Toby’s legacy

Toby and team

by Pam Tinsley

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.

Stevie

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.

It’s never too early for God’s love

By Pam Tinsley

Medical staff members attend a newborn in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Photo by Phillip A. Jones

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.