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.

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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.

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.