How does your church ‘equip the saints’?

by Demi Prentiss

In Ephesians 4, Paul declares that the work of church leadership is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” which he describes is “building up the body of Christ.”  Observing the emphasis that many Christian communities place on gathering for worship, formation, and fellowship, it might be hard to discern how that “building up” process might be occurring for anyone except “insiders,” people who find their way inside the walls of the church building.

Those of us who understand “ministry” as a daily, whole-life endeavor for all God’s people long for the day that faith communities claim their calling to truly equip their members: to give them tools to leave the church grounds and become intentional, functional ambassadors for the reign of God wherever they find themselves. Such folks can transform organizations, neighborhoods, even cities as they work to do God’s work in the world.

Our friends at the Theology of Work website offer strategies for helping a congregation practice that sort of equipping. Their web page on The Equipping Church poses four key questions for churches that aim to equip their people for mission in daily work:

      • What is God’s Mission in the World?
      • How does human work connect to God’s work?
      • What does this mean for people in their daily work?
      • How can we equip our people for God’s work in the world?

Faith communities that want to “equip” their people tend to shift focus, prioritizing “beyond the church walls” work over “inside the church” work. That last question can help faith communities shape their lives together in ways that build up the body of Christ, both those inside the church walls as well as among all the people they encounter.

What does it look like in practice for a church to operate in a way that reflects these changed perspectives and priorities? Churches that have embarked on this journey demonstrate a number of common characteristics.

Equipping churches:

      • have a vision of God at work where their people work
      • actively hunt for examples and resources
      • connect daily work to worship
      • address the opportunities and challenges their people face at work
      • invest resources in equipping people for daily work
      • create structures to sustain this ministry
      • empower and collaborate with people in the congregation to lead the ministry
      • release and support their people for work outside the church
      • encourage everyone to take responsibility
      • include daily work as part of youth ministry and compassion/outreach/service ministries

What items on that list are characteristic of your own congregation? Which of those practices might you want to undertake during the coming year?

A touch of hope

by Pam Tinsley

Earlier this month, my hairstylist Ron and I were talking about our respective Thanksgiving Days. I spoke about being together with family, and Ron said that he had decided to help serve meals at the Rescue Mission. That’s where he happened to run into a homeless man who sometimes works with Ron to transform a local high school gym into the church where Ron and about 600 others worship each Sunday.

After most of the meals were served, Ron joined some of the men at a table and talked with them. As people were leaving, Ron asked his friend if he would help him put up the Christmas tree in his salon. Ron said his eyes lit up. Ron appreciated both the help and the company, and his homeless friend appreciated being valued.

They speak honestly – including about how the man became homeless – and Ron is clear about boundaries when the man works in his yard or at church. The man has asked Ron to help him learn to hold on to some of the money he earns from odd jobs, and Ron has found a “money counseling” class they’ll attend together in the hope that his friend might live into his dream of steady work and having a roof over his head.

Yet, more importantly, Ron offers respect and community. Because Ron listens and sees him for who he is, a beloved child of God, this man experiences a bit of love in the midst of a cold world that would prefer that he “simply went away.” And, while not all of us can offer someone occasional work or can volunteer at a homeless shelter, we can pay attention and listen to everyone we meet and treat them with dignity and respect. We can treat them as God’s beloved children and perhaps bless them with a touch of hope, if only for a brief moment.

What’s your superpower?

by Demi Prentiss

Recently Michael Piazza offered a “Liberating Word” post on “Discovering Your Superpower.” He shared this powerful thought: “…the first step to becoming a superhero is to believe you are gifted, that you are uniquely empowered by the spirit. Missing or neglecting that gift will diminish your life, weaken the Body of Christ, and leave the world a dimmer and more divided place.”

Too often laity – who comprise 99 percent of the church, consistently across denominations – assume that our superpowers are the abilities that will enable us to “make it,” or “get rich,” or “become famous.” Truly, gifts of the Spirit may have that effect on our lives. More importantly, Piazza specifies that whenever our superpowers show up, it’s because we are “uniquely empowered by the Spirit [capital “S” mine].” While those gifts may not make us rich and famous, they definitely make our lives worth living. And they are put to work in big and small ways, most effectively in the actions of our ordinary, everyday lives.

Gifts / superpowers are typically those attributes that are so deeply rooted in our identity that we’re almost unaware of them, or where they came from. They’re just “how we are,” without thinking about it. They usually don’t get us recognized as “superheroes.” And because each of us is a precious, unique, beloved Child of God, our superpowers assume a unique shape or manifestation – just because we are who we are. It’s essential – and definitely not egotistical – that we offer them. That offering is not only the expression of our whole self – it also makes the Body of Christ more whole, more brilliant, and more unified.

Where the laity are empowered to “be all that you can be,” God’s reign is more fully realized. Where those superpowers are unleashed, the people of God experience and offer more love, and the world becomes more whole. The effect is transformative, of people and situations, and often practically unnoticed.

For Piazza, there’s a sure way to understand what your superpower is. “If you really want to know what your superpower is, honestly answer this question: ‘For what do you want to be remembered?’ In other words, what do you want your unique legacy to be?”

What daily life superpower will you be remembered for?

We are the church; we are sacraments

by Fletcher Lowe

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,

for the saints of God are just folks like me, and I mean to be one, too.

We sang those words on All Saints’ Sunday.  Notice where you meet the saints. In church, yes, but how many other places?

I remember years ago, being stopped by a driver in the small town I was serving as vicar of the Episcopal Church.  He asked, “Where is the Episcopal Church?”  I was ready with the location, but then I decided to witness to my passion:  Well, I said, the church is  at this bank across the street and down the street in that hardware store and out on the highway at the Jansen plant and three blocks over in the doctor’s office.  I then saw the befuddled look on the driver’s face, so I said, “That’s where the church really is.  If you want to know where the church building is, take a left at the light and it is two blocks over on the left.”

Richard Halverson, US Senate Chaplin (1981-94), expressed the same thought this way:

Christ’s strategy is to scatter his people throughout the world between Sundays, penetrating society’s structures from within. They are the true ministers of Jesus Christ in the world.  Rightly understood, every believer is in full-time service for Jesus Christ….and the church’s impact is the aggregate of the laity’s impact as they carry out their common tasks between Sundays.  Whether you are a pilot, plumber, pastor, physician, or working to meet innumerable legitimate human needs at an office, construction site, or home, you are working for God.

Add here are that English priest Percy Dearmer’s (1867-1936) words:

 All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of thee,

 that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be. 

          We will serve thee faithfully.

 I love Dearmer’s image of you and me being sacraments. The baptized are the “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace,” as the Episcopal prayer book defines a sacrament.  That is our calling, our ministry, our vocation as the scattered people throughout the world between Sundays!

 

Won’t you be God’s neighbor?

by Demi Prentiss

It’s all too easy to get sucked into the notion of the need for a heroic response to God’s call.  Once you’ve figured out where God is asking you to go, isn’t it up to the individual to get themselves there – climb any mountain, swim any river, suffer weariness and pain, all for the sake of responding to God’s call with immediate, decisive action?

Lawn chairs as tools of mission

There are actually times when that kind of response is called for. Usually, however, ending up in tune with what God has in mind has more to do with careful discernment, fueled by watching and listening and waiting before we set a plan in motion. Remembering that God has been there, in action, long before we even entered the picture. Being clear that the people around you are players in God’s plan as much as you are.

Faith+Lead offers access to a learning lab supported by Luther Seminary. Focused on exploring ways to cultivate Christian faith in the twenty-first century, Faith+Lead serves as a connector to resources, experiments, and communities that see the Holy Spirit moving in the midst of change.  Members of such communities recognize that God is at work everywhere in the world – wherever we go, God is already in action. One of the keys to acting on our faith is learning to perceive where God is operating, in order to join in the work that’s already in progress.

A recent blog post invited readers to start with paying attention to what God might be up to in their neighborhood, turning a lawn chair into a tool of mission.  The blog claims, “This breakthrough practice helps you discern where the Holy Spirit is at work in your neighborhood–simply by making time regularly to pay attention to your neighbors.”

The instructions boil down to

      1.  Set up a lawn chair. Sit in it.
      2.  Pay attention. What’s going on around you?
      3.  Ask questions. Notice God’s activity.
      4.  Try variations. Get out and observe where God might be showing up.

Responding to God’s call to make a difference may depend on our ability to discern what God is up to, right in front of us.

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Have you discovered the “Making It Work” podcast? Launched on October 21, “Making It Work” is a new podcast produced by a partnership between The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project. Join hosts Leah Archibald and Mark Roberts as they talk with guests about inviting God into the challenges that come across your desk and into your inbox on a day to day basis. Listen in and see what God might be saying to you. Don’t miss it! Follow on Instagram @theologyofwork for updates.

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.

Contracts as God’s work

Even writing contracts can be doing God’s work.

by Fletcher Lowe

As a priest, one of my prime commitments has been to encourage, support, and confirm parishioners in their daily ministries.  One way I have done that over the years is by visiting them where they work, and while I’m there we discuss what they do and what the Sunday-Monday, faith-work connection is.  For most it is the first time that the connection issue has been raised.  Further conversation often leads to an “aha” moment.  Let me share one of those conversations as how one lawyer had such an “aha.”

Lisa: 

Until I recently retired, I was a corporate “transactional” attorney for a large international freight company. I negotiated and wrote all kinds of contracts – contracts to buy software, to lease trucks, to acquire janitorial services, to hire guards at our terminals. If it involves a contract of any type, I was usually involved in it.

 

When Fletcher Lowe originally asked if he could visit me at work to discuss the “faith connection,” that is the connection between what I do to make a living and my faith, I agreed reluctantly. I mean, after all, how could working as an attorney for a trucking company tie in to God’s work?

 

In our discussion, he challenged me to see how the gifts I have and the work I do is in fact God’s work. That drafting up a contract fairly, is applying my faith and the values rooted in my faith. That treating my fellow employees with respect, behaving in an ethical manner, and being able to help two parties work through issues and come up with a problem solving approach, rather than a conflict based disagreement, is doing God’s work. That, in fact, doing what I have the skills to do, using whatever talents I may have, is God’s work.

 

It was a revelation to me! I tended to view “God’s work” as what the priests and choir directors and youth ministers and Mother Teresas do. I viewed the “work world” as separate from the “faith world.” It turned that assumption on its ear to see that maybe simply applying the talents God gave me is, in fact, also doing “God’s work.” As dry and un-faith-like as writing up a contract sounds – it did seem possible that somehow that type of work might also serve God’s purpose. And, in that setting, my church community isn’t separate, but is a foundation, a “base camp,” for the rest of the week – a place to focus, resupply, and prepare to go back out and do whatever work is set out before me.

 

What a concept. God is truly amazing!

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.

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?