by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar

After acknowledging that he, like all others living in his day, was a sinner needing purging, Isaiah was cleansed of his impurity through a painful process of having a burning hot coal sear his lips. In blistering pain, Isaiah overhears God speaking to the angels. The Prophet says it this way:

“Then I heard the voice of Yahweh saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I; send me!”


If Isaiah had just waited five more seconds to hear precisely what God needed the prophet to proclaim to the people of Israel, he probably would not have been so eager to volunteer! If he had known, Isaiah would probably have quipped, “Here am I; send him!”

Ministry is always a call from God to facilitate the plan of the Creator: healing, wholeness, unity, justice, and liberation. A lofty calling, to be sure. Hard work, just as assuredly. When it comes to ministry in Christ’s church, I’m awfully glad that most of us were not pre-briefed on precisely what this holy work entails.

In the past several hundred years, ministry has been improperly coopted by the professionals. When Paul writes about ministry in the first century church, he describes an egalitarian system where every person in the believing community had responsibilities to the whole. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” Paul writes to the faithful in Corinth. “… God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.” He was neither setting up a hierarchy nor delivering an exhaustive list. Everyone, as Paul tells it, had gifts (given them by the Spirit of Christ) and were called by God to exercise those gifts for the furtherance (in my opinion) of the whole human race. The community was effective – was ‘whole’ – only when everyone exercised their particular gifts – not for the exclusive benefit of the community, but for the common good of all.

By the third century, certain ministries had become raised in practice and were transformed to positions of prestige. It is clear what he intends when Paul insists the opposite, “… there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” For him, it was this sanctification of all people and ministries that make a whole community. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” I think we know the answers.

By the late 17th century, use of the word “ministry” became the exclusive purview of ordained clergy. All work in the church was assigned to and accomplished by an elite class of clergy. The calling of God to be a healer was never recognized in a person of “lay” status. (Even as I write the word “lay,” I cringe.) This alone evidences a division against which Paul warned us sternly centuries before.

Further, as this schism evolved, “ministry” began to refer almost exclusively to liturgical functions surrounding the table and worship. Whether it was work as priest, reader, acolyte, or altar guild, those tasks associated with worship became identified as ‘ministry,’ even ‘true ministry.’

In the last 100 to 200 years, this exclusive hold on ministry has begun to loosen. Perhaps – and this is my hope – this was the result of the reemergence of the order of deacon (in the Anglican communion, this began with women!) where that order found definition and purpose in serving the wider community outside the confines of the sanctuary. Soon, people were speaking more properly of ministry as the right and call of every person – not to perform liturgical functions, but to be of service to the larger community.

This is an important foundation to understand when the church speaks of ministry. No more reserved for the ordained, ministry is the call from God to all people in the church to cooperate with God in the establishment of God’s reign: a reign of healing, wholeness, unity, justice, and liberation. It is not just a suggestion anymore; the call to ministry begins at our birth, is confirmed at baptism, and is celebrated at our gathering for worship on Sunday.

Next week: “But I don’t have any skills to be a minister!”
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We’ll see you at St. John’s this weekend:
• Saturday worship at 5 p.m. in the Chapel
• Sunday worship at 8 a.m. (In-person only)

• Sunday worship at 10 a.m. (in-person and ZOOM)
• Godly Play and Nursery at 10 a.m.

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Haven’t taken the survey yet? Responses needed today, Saturday, February 5!

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The worship bulletin for Sunday, February 6.

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Zoom worship link, Sunday, 10 a.m.

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St. John’s NEWS.

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