Finding your calling

by Fletcher Lowe

“Jesus is in the legislature. If he were not there I would not be either.”

Rep. Byron Rushing, Member of the Massachusetts State Legislature

Lent is a season of penitence. In keeping with that we Episcopalians in the Liturgy put the Penitential Order front and center. We talk a lot about sin and forgiveness and reconciliation and redemption—all significant Christian themes.

That being said, let’s take a second look and go back to the reason that Jesus went into the wilderness. It was not for repentance; it was for vocation. As I read the accounts, it was to figure out what his mission and ministry were to be. Now the devil helped him in that by offering him at least three other options—each of which he refused. Out of the 40 days he emerged with his mission/ministry: to proclaim the Kingdom of God is at hand. His teachings and healings and other miracles gave credence to that.

For me that provides an alternative focus for Lent: to critique how I am doing in understanding my calling as a follower of Christ in my daily life and work. Relevant questions might be:

  • In whatever I do, what is the faith connection?
  • In my everyday life, how is God calling me to “proclaim by word and example…, to seek and serve…, to strive….,” as we affirm in the Baptismal Covenant.

Each of us, by the very nature of our Baptism, has been sent “into the world to love and serve the Lord.” That world is wherever and with whomever we “live and move and have our being”: in our work and home and community and school.

Christ, in his 40 days in the wilderness, gives us a model: to take some time focusing on what we do beyond Sunday. Thanks be to God who gives us the opportunity, in our own way, to be “Christ” with those whom we meet in everyday life.

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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.