by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
In previous episodes of the Saturday missives…
In the last two weeks, we have looked at who is called to ministry and what skills are necessary for ministry. I recounted with you that for God’s work on earth to be done (creating the fullness of God’s reign of justice, mercy, compassion), our baptismal covenant calls us each to be ministers. Then, distinguishing skills appropriate for liturgical ministry from the skills we all possess by birth – it is the latter that are called upon in the church to use as in response to the call to ministry.
Today, I want to share a perspective on ministry itself: What is ministry? Where does ministry take place? Who is the focus of ministry?
First, a perspective on ministry over the past few centuries.
Because, I think, ministry in the church became the exclusive domain of clergy and paid professionals, folks in the pew became passive recipients of acts done to them by someone designated to do it. The fundamental calling of ministry became, not something one did, but something one received. If you were sick or dying, you received the ministry of anointing from a priest. If you felt alienated from the presence of God or isolated from your faith-family, you went to a priest to receive absolution. When it was time to sing joyfully to God, you sat quietly and listened to the choir. Even for the major transition events in human life (birth, adolescence, marriage, death, and certain “vocations”), it was a bishop, priest or deacon who “performed” the rights for you and your family as you received the church’s blessing. And it’s no wonder that when it came to the regular gathering of the worshipping family, we ‘watched’ the priest say the prayers over bread and wine. (A complete side-trip here, but when the language of liturgy was Latin, and when so few people knew Latin, there were instituted a system of alerts to tell the folks that “this is the important part” of the liturgy. Hence, the Sanctus Bells. I think this was used to awaken those who had fallen asleep.)
When structurally and canonically limited to people ordained and appointed, the people of God could be forgiven for assuming that ministry was supposed to be given to us as opposed to seeing ourselves as the actors of ministry.
Another expected development in such a system, is to limit the recipients of ministry to those who were physically in or connected to the church. If a stranger came looking for marriage, or a funeral, or assistance, the response was often, “I’m sorry. I do not know you,” followed by doors closing hard in many faces. Often, when we think of ministry, we think of what is done inside the church exclusively to church people. Perhaps the motivation was to conserve limited resources. I can’t help but think, however, it may have been used to sustain a system of purity, intended only for those who meet some criteria.
This model maintains a strong grip on churches worldwide. Ministry is mostly defined by what a community does for itself, its members. For example, membership in a ministry for those who lost a spouse was limited to those in the church who are mourning. A food drive may have been intended to help people in the community and only secondarily (especially after the use by date had long since expired) was food given to people in the neighborhood. When some churches preach about reconciliation, there is often the assumption that the preacher is talking about how the people in church can make peace with each other. Talks about stewardship are often given without the explanatory context of caring for the hungry, homeless, and marginalized people outside the walls of the church. When education programs are offered, they are usually intending to sharpen the understanding or knowledge of the membership on a topic, and not so much to prepare them for something more.
What is the alternative? Is there a call to stop ministering to members? Should we focus exclusively on ministry to those outside?
In true Anglican form, the answer is “both-and,” WITH a corresponding change in emphasis.
As Christians, we are called by baptism to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. It seems clear that this is intended to carry these to people outside the walls of our sanctuary; to bring dignity to the world that is broken and suffering. It is a focus upon those in our cities, countries, and in the world who need the good news of God in Christ. People in the church already hear this good news. This emphasis impels us outward and is the principal charge from Jesus.
Yet, as a member of a family, we are called also to care for each other. We make certain that all of us have what we need to participate in our baptismal covenant. This is not the exclusive work of the clergy. When someone in the community is sick, marginalized, hungry, or in mourning, the task is for all of us to be the living, healing presence of God. We all become aware, and we are all responsible. In this way, there are more people, with great natural gifts helping to alleviate anything preventing members from full participation in the ministry of the church. The need is known, prayed for and healed by all of us until a separated member can rejoin the cause.
When fully embraced, this is an essential reorientation of what it means to be church. I think it also reorients us to think in terms of doing church, rather than being church. The focus of the community becomes the cry of Christ in the world; its mission and ministry are to those who may never occupy a pew.
This reorientation reaches a high point after we work diligently in the fields of the Gospel. Sunday morning as we gather (or ANY day, for that matter), becomes “more” Eucharistic. Eucharist, meaning thanksgiving, seems to me to be more comprehensive when we give thanks (aloud, as a “sermon”) for how and where we have encountered Christ in people of the city, country, and world around us. Imagine hearing directly from each other on Sunday about our work in those fields bringing justice, peace, and dignity to all we met last week! Eucharist becomes both the source for strength we need to do church, and the inspiration for working again as church toward the realized presence of God’s Reign here on earth.
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• 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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The worship bulletin for Sunday, February 20, 2022.
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ZOOM Worship Link – Sunday, 10 a.m.
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