Shifting from ‘adulting’ to vocation

by Demi Prentiss

A recent blog post caught my eye. While it was aimed a young adults, I think the message is a profound one for the entire faith community:

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, young adults have lower employment levels and smaller incomes than previous generations. In addition, young adults are more frequently strapped with student loan debt which impacts their options for housing and reduces their buying power. Young adults are waiting longer to complete traditional milestones of adulthood like marriage and starting a family. At the same time, new milestones of adulthood have yet to emerge.

“When my young adult friends say “I’m tired of adulting” they are most often sharing their frustrations over these realities. They feel stuck because in many ways they are. To adult is to become an effective manager of your life and while that is good, it feels incomplete.

“This hunger for meaning is where I believe communities of faith can help. Revitalized communities of faith provide alternatives to “mindless adulting” by equipping men and women – both young and old – to discover and live their vocations. In these communities, stale catechesis is replaced by a Culture of Encounter and Vocation.

“How do congregational leaders begin this revitalization?

  • Let go of old program models that don’t work
  • Create space for people to listen and hear God who is calling
  • Help people identify their gifts
  • Appreciate the diversity of talents present in the community
  • Call gifts from the margin to the center
  • Uphold the dignity of all work
  • Place people in relationship with one another so needs can be shared without shame
  • Celebrate and find meaning through story sharing”

What might our faith communities look like if believers were formed to discover and live their vocations – not simply on the church grounds or on a mission trip, but every day? How do we uphold and celebrate the daily life ministries of all the baptized? What needs to change in your faith community to take the first step in this direction?

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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.

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.

Who Are You Meant To Be? — 2 Views

by Fletcher Lowe

Let me offer two prayerful expressions of the ministry we all share as the Baptized.

A 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun, St. Teresa of Ávila, put it this way:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,

and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.

Let this presence settle into your bones,

and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us .

More recently the Rev. Dr. Richard Halverson, the late Chaplain of the US Senate offered this:

You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go, God is sending you there.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
He has a purpose in your being there.

Christ, who indwells in you, has something He wants to do through you,
wherever you are.

Believe this, and go in His grace, and love, and power. Amen!

Election Day and Beyond

It’s election day. Soon it will be over. And the effects of the day will extend for many years, touching the lives of those who voted as well as those who failed to vote, who wanted to vote but couldn’t, who couldn’t have cared less, and who, possibly, aren’t even alive yet.

The same can be said about our lives, and the footprints we leave behind. (See the Nov. 2 blog entry.) The effects of our lives extend beyond our limited vision.

My friend John Colon recently posted on Facebook:

I just voted. As has been stated before, it’s the one day when there are no rich or poor as one person one vote makes us all equal. Voting has always been an emotional experience for me after I have voted. Yet, this morning as I was preparing for my day, I was thinking about the people who have influenced my life and who helped me become the man I am today. I noted the diversity of people who have mentored me, my family, friends and peers, and those whom I have had the privilege to serve and lead. And I thought to myself, “Indeed, it does take a village.” Vote wisely today, friends. This is not an election about material wealth, self-centered desires or fear and hatred. It’s about community, welcoming the stranger, loving your neighbor as yourself, faith, hope and love.

The people John credits with influencing his beliefs were witnesses in daily life, demonstrating to John and to the world around them the values they held dear and the beliefs that shaped their lives. Each of us, in our daily lives, witness in that same way. That witness – perhaps more than any intentional acts of charity or piety or faithfulness – is our true ministry. God willing, our lives and our witness serve as our proclamation of God’s good news. Or perhaps, a proclamation of our unbelief. Or our worship of someone or something other than the Holy One.

In the weeks and months ahead, may our lives offer to those around us a transformative example, as John experienced. May we “show forth [God’s] praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives.” May we embody the presence of Christ in our daily interactions. May we practice being part of the Jesus Movement in every aspect of our daily life.

As St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Baptize those backpacks!

by Demi Prentiss

Fellow ministry developer Andrea Rosenberg McKellar recently posted a story on her blog about her church’s blessing of the backpacks, a ritual marking the beginning of the new school year. I love her son’s remark: “Mom, can’t you just baptize it for me?”

Baptism is all about becoming a part of God’s mission, a participant in the Jesus Movement, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would remind us. So, as a reminder of the everyday ministries of daily life, why not “baptize” the backpacks? And why stop there? Shouldn’t we, really, be “baptizing” law books, and computers, and scalpels, and grocery carts, and hand trucks?

What if we remembered, via our Sunday liturgies, more of the ways that the baptized honor their commitment to the Jesus Movement in every aspect of their lives? What if what we did on Sunday really caused us to remember — on Monday and every day —  that we have promised to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”?

So yes, please, bless the backpacks and the children who carry them back to school. And then remember to bless the grading books and the teachers who labor to fill them out. Bless the blood pressure cuffs and the nurses who skillfully use them. Bless the power saws and the carpenters who build our homes and our workplaces.

Labor Day is just around the corner! Here’s a useful liturgy which works for Labor Day as well as Rogation Day. Or pick a Sunday each month, and honor all those in a profession like real estate or law enforcement. Or remember one vocation each Sunday. Here’s a prayer cycle.

As Andrea urges, may the baptismal font remind us that God is with us when….. [you name it!] And may we also be reminded that our faith community promises — in that same baptismal liturgy — to support one another through all the ups and downs.

Who owns ministry?

by Fletcher Lowe

Recently I was in a meeting where a young man was sharing his Christian journey.  He outlined his childhood closely connected to a Church community, then college where he felt called to the “ministry,” which he pursued through graduate school in music, became a Minister of Music, moved on to Seminary to further pursue that call to “the ministry,” had a not-too-challenging time as an assistant minister before finding his ministry fit as a chaplain in a home for disabled adults.

The more I heard his story, the more I felt uncomfortable with the way he was using the word “ministry.”  It was as if the only real ministry was within the church community.

I had a similar conversation at a dinner party a week ago when I was introduced to another guest: “She is a Presbyterian minister,” my friend said.  I looked back at him and said, “Well you, too, are a Presbyterian minister – it’s just that she has been ordained, but we are all ministers by virtue of our Baptism.”  They both looked as if I was speaking a foreign language.

Part of the current missional revolution is challenging the Church to reclaim the sense of ministry, of calling, of vocation for all the Baptized, not just those who are ordained.  As Byron Rushing, the vice chair of The Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies remarked, reflecting on his calling in the Massachusetts Legislature, “Jesus is in the Legislature where I am called to serve. If he were not there, I should not be there either.”

Each of us is empowered by our baptism for ministry in our daily lives of home, work, and community.  We need to claim that calling – and not let the ordained alone “own it.”

Ministry in the ‘None Zone’

by Pam Tinsley

A number of years ago I began a ministry at my workplace, where I was an executive at an insurance company. I didn’t call it a ministry at the time. I didn’t realize that it was a ministry. And, to be quite honest, I didn’t intend to start anything!

My mother became seriously ill, and I was frequently and uncharacteristically absent for long-weekend trips to visit and care for her. After she died co-workers began to seek me out – not to talk about my grief, but to share their own struggles with aging and seriously-ill parents.  We never talked about Jesus or God or faith. Living in the “None Zone,” where our residents mark “none” when asked about religious affiliation, most probably weren’t aware that I was active in my church. Instead, they simply shared what was happening in their lives and with their parents, and I listened. We conversed about a sacred part of our lives with an openness that transcended the typical business transaction-type conversation. As a matter of fact, one person who sought me out was a senior vice president whose personal life was so private that others referred to his vacations as “CIA missions”!

It quickly became apparent just how healing these conversations were. I noticed a level of mutual care that had previously been lacking in my workplace, and I believe they did, as well. By being intentionally Christ-centered in the care for my mother and my openness to others, the interactions I had with co-workers had been transformed from simple workplace conversations into baptismal ministry.

This is just one example of how I’ve experienced that being mindful of our baptismal vows can transform what we are already doing in our lives.  Not only was I changed, but others were, as well.

How might you live into your baptismal vocation, be it at work, in your community, at school, or at home with family?

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?

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.