The Ministry?

by Fletcher Lowe

During my sophomore year in college, I got a note from the Dean of Students to come to his office!! UGH!, what had I done to warrant that? So, dutifully and a bit nervously, I came at the appointed time and was ushered in.  The Dean asked me to sit down, and then asked me a question:  Had I ever thought about the Ministry? The Ministry, really?  I answered that it had never occurred to me.  He said that he would like for me to give it some thought and prayer. And then I left.  WOW!  That conversation did percolate in my spirit, eventually leading me to seminary and ordination in the Ministry.

Early on in the Ministry, spending quality time with parishioners where they worked, I began to see that the Ministry was far broader than clergy. My sense of the Ministry opened up to include all the Baptized as they live their daily live on the job, in the community, in the home.

For whatever historical and theological reasons, the Church, however, has been more exclusive than inclusive in its sense of the Ministry.  Mark Gibbs, over 50 years ago put it this way:

The secular laity are not called by God to any lower standard of discipleship than clergy or churchly laity.  They are not limited to any less standard of life and witness. They are indeed, God’s first line of agents in the world. He has placed them and can use them in secular structures where the clergy can seldom penetrate.

So the Dean, not only in his conversation with me, but in the countless other aspects of his work, was exercising the Ministry.  It is the Church’s responsibility to affirm its laity that who they are and what they do constitute the Ministry.

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It’s all in how we receive

by Fletcher Lowe

Let me confess: I am addicted to the TV show Dancing with the Stars!  My wife and I met dancing and have been dancing together ever since, so watching Dancing with the Stars is a natural.  How does that relate to ministry?  Very simply.  The people who participate on that show minister to my wife and me in a significant way, providing us with a deep sense of joy and gratitude and well-being, with an opportunity to thank God for such talent and for our ability to enjoy it.  I have no idea about the religious backgrounds of any of those on the show.  That’s not the point.  What I do know is that they provide a real ministry to me.  Which is to say that ministry is not an exclusive Christian thing.  Nor does it depend on whether the individual has a sense of ministry.  It’s all in how we receive.

So I feel ministered to by all sorts and conditions of people.  Ministry is not just what I and other Baptized Christians try to offer in our neck of the woods, but it is also how we experience the ministry of others whether they realize it or not.

So, who are those who minister to you?  Certainly, your fellow Christians on the job or in your community or home.  And what about those other folks out there in your world?  Can we not celebrate their ministry also, even if they have no idea that they are ministering to us?  Just a thought for further discussion.  In the meanwhile, I will celebrate being ministered to by the folks on Dancing with the Stars!

P.S.  Would it not be a good Christian thing to do to let those folks know of their ministry to us?  I’m adding that to my to do list: thank the folks at Dancing with the Stars for their ministry to me and my wife.

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.

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?

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.

A question never asked until . . .

Until I was a bishop. The question: “Is being bishop your baptismal ministry or is it a position in your career as a minister?”

It was asked by a 16-year-old young man and candidate for confirmation during a day-long teaching session on baptism I was leading in a Western Michigan diocesan deanery.

He wasn’t trying to be funny in a “gotcha” moment. He was serious because he “got it.” He got the connection between baptism as a Christian identity and therefore baptism as the basis of all ministry for both lay and ordained persons alike. He was beginning to understand that baptism is the first order of ministry in the church and not ordination, not even that of a bishop. (See Book of Common Prayer, p. 855, “The Ministry.”)

As soon as he asked, I realized I had never been asked it before — never during my seminary years, never during any of the canonical requirements leading to ordination, never in the course of my conversations and searchings regarding what I wanted to do with my life. Baptism and being baptized, being “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever,” never entered the vocational equation. In  time, only ordination was discussed as “real” ministry and never was it related or connected to my baptism.

Baptism as an actual order of ministry is not yet fully realized because for centuries that was and has been confined to ordination.  But we now have the opportunity to change that.

How do the ordained let baptized persons know and claim their identity as “called and sent” ministers of Christ in the world? When they affirm, empower, lift up, and thank the baptized for their ministries on behalf of the Gospel in their daily lives 24/7. And that will begin when the ordained can truly acknowledge that being a bishop or priest or deacon is in fact their own authentic baptismal ministry, a vocation long before it was manifest by ordination.

For me it was late in coming, but I hope not too late, thanks to a teenager’s question a couple of decades ago.