The ministry of the baptized is exercised in two arenas: within the world and within the Church. The primary arena is the world. With lives centered in the community of faith, the people of God are sent out to represent Christ to families and friends, communities, at workplaces and places of leisure, “bearing witness to Christ wherever we may be.”
Ministry Beyond Church Doors
In an ideal world, every person would go about daily life as a biblically knowledgeable representative of the Christian community,
- able to proclaim the Good News
- living as a faithful steward of God-given gifts
- reflecting Christ’s compassion to those who are afflicted
- seeking ways to reach out to the oppressed
- and working diligently for justice and peace.
We are constantly re-learning how to open ourselves to the action of God’s Spirit so that we may be channels of God’s love. A supportive congregation will be involved in guiding and sustaining the ministries of its members in their daily lives — their lives in Christ — whatever their occupation or profession. As William Law wrote in the 17th century:
As a good Christian should consider every place holy because God is there, so one should look upon every part of one’s life as a matter of holiness, because it is to be offered to God. For as all persons, and all things in the world truly belong unto God, so all things are to be used, and all persons are to act in their several states and employments for the glory of God.
Those in worldly business, therefore, must not look upon themselves as at liberty to live to themselves, to sacrifice to their own humors and tempers, because their employment is of a worldly nature. ... It is as much the duty of those in worldly business to live wholly unto God as it is the duty of those who are devoted to Divine service....
Individuals may differ in their employments, but yet all must act for the same ends, as dutiful servants of God, in the right and pious performance of their several callings.
The late Very Rev. James C. Fenhagen, retired Dean of the General Theological Seminary, has written:
We are being led to find deep satisfaction in small things... to find the satisfaction in ministry not in what is dramatic or successful in the world’s eyes, but more in the satisfaction of faithfulness and rootedness and the deep pleasure which comes when, by us through the Spirit, we see lives transformed and values changed because of the baptized who see themselves working in the world committed to making a difference. Sunday after Sunday, the Eucharist empowers the church. Life is uncertain, but for us the victory has been won by the resurrection of Christ. It is participating in this victory that gives our ministry power.
We know that all are called to represent Christ in the world. Most people do this quite directly, participating in the world beyond the Church’s doors while earning a living and caring for family.
Ministry takes countless forms that stretch beyond the routine of daily life:
- nurturing and serving one’s own family
- acting to feed and shelter the homeless
- working on behalf of all persons with disabilities
- supporting victims of racial and sexual and economic oppression
- caring for children and the elderly
- practicing non-violence
- acting ethically in the workplace
- challenging the comfortable and affluent whose hearts may be hardened against others by fear of failing or by servitude to possessions or status
- sharing one’s faith with a friend
- engaging in the political process
- practicing responsible stewardship of environmental resources.
All of these and more, done for Christ’s sake, are ways in which the baptized proclaim Christ in deed, and summon the world to respond.
Ministries within the Gathered Church
Seven major elements characterize the life of most congregations, sustain energy and support member’s ministries in the world: Worship; Christian education; Pastoral ministry; Outreach to the poor and those in need; Evangelism; Stewardship; and Administration. All the baptized people of God may participate in one and very often more of the ministries simply as active members of the congregation. Those who wish to give greater emphasis and take on a larger and more responsible role may become a Vestry member. Another calling may be to consider the Church’s calling to one or more of the lay licensed ministries. Still others may be called to one of the Holy Orders of Priest or Deacon.
Called to Ministry is a set of three documents that provides guidelines for all those in discernment in the Convocation. This first document, Called to Ministry: I, includes “Section 1: Introduction to Vocational Discernment”, and “Section 2: Licensed Ministries”. Called to Ministry: II, covers the guidelines for Holy Orders; and Called to Ministry: III contains the “Annexes” (Baptismal Covenant, Glossary, and relevant parts of Canon III). It is recommended that all those going through discernment, and all those supporting or involved in discernment be familiar with all sections of Called to Ministry.
Corporate worship is the primary point of contact and shared experience for all the baptized. It is the community’s center of religious expression, from which all other ministries of the congregation originate and are regenerated. In the contemporary understanding of the Eucharist in The Episcopal Church, all the baptized participate and the expression of this participation can be found in reading the lessons, leading the Prayers of the People, being a Eucharistic Minister or Visitor, the ushering, and the behind scenes role of being a member of the Altar Guild. A Worship Leader, licensed by the Bishop, may lead Services of the Word in a parish or mission. A Preacher is licensed to preach. An Evangelist has a role in sharing the good news of Christ and a Catechist teaches the Christian faith through preparing candidates for Baptism and Confirmation. These lay ministries complement the ministries of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon and are a witness to the inclusive, empowering love of God that utilizes all the gifts of the people of God.
The call to the Convocation is to develop these lay ministries to reveal the richness of ministry to which God calls us. In worship we render our grateful praise and thanksgiving, confess our sins, intercede for those in need, and seek guidance and strength for the tasks that lie ahead—whatever our daily vocation may be. All baptized people may also assist in planning and conducting worship, and serve as acolytes, choir or altar guild members, lectors, intercessors, and ushers.
Since the beginnings of The Episcopal Church, the Canons have provided for licensed readers to assist the Clergy and to conduct certain services when no Clergy are available. In 1991, a major revision of Title III, the ministry canon, formalized a number of additional roles and established criteria for preparation and procedures for licensing. In 2003, an additional revision of Title III further refined these positions. (See the Canonical excerpts in the separate document of Annexes, and Section 2: Licensed Lay Ministries in this document.) The licensed ministries related to worship are: Eucharistic Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, Preacher, and Worship Leader.
Next to worship, Christian education probably has the most influence on the life of Church members. Most congregations sponsor educational programs and religious instruction for people of all ages, including Church school classes for children, inquirers’ and Confirmation classes, adult forums, youth groups, parenting programs and vacation Bible schools. These offer opportunities for life-long learning, ever deepening exposure to the riches of Scripture and tradition, Church doctrine and history, the inspirational lives of the saints, the example of the great prophets and martyrs, and the powerful witness of prayerful men and women throughout history.
Through educational programs, contemporary Christians explore centuries of the Church’s knowledge and experience in order to relate it to everyday life in their own time and place. While Clergy may offer leadership in the educational life of the congregation, the community must also raise up lay educators to sustain and deepen the intellectual and spiritual life of its members.
In the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, the European Institute for Christian Studies (EICS), Commission on the Ministry of the Baptized (COMB), Youth across Europe (Youth Retreats and Conferences), and Education for Ministry (EfM) offer opportunities for growth and learning beyond the Parish. Notification of these and other opportunities is distributed through the communication systems of the Convocation. The licensed ministry related to Christian education is that of Catechist.
Pastoral ministers in a congregation include all who share in building and bonding the community, and in nurturing and shaping the membership and congregational activities. They coordinate the congregation’s internal life and the organizations that complement its worship and education. Such ministry also recalls the early Church’s understanding of itself as a mutually interdependent community whose members minister to one another, share each other’s gifts, and prepare to move out into the world.
Pastoral activities that support the life of the congregation thus extend well beyond conventional “pastoral visits” from the Clergy. They include prayer chains and telephone support networks, preparing and sharing food, arranging congregational fellowship, and the multitude of ways in which every Christian expresses care for each other through prayer and presence. Some communities have hospitals that offer training in pastoral ministry. Many congregations offer training to their people in pastoral ministries. Those wishing to pursue this more deeply as a licensed minister may consider becoming a Pastoral Leader.
Each congregation’s ministry extends beyond its own membership. Outreach means living the Gospel by ministering to those in need. Begun in worship and fellowship, these activities lead outward in service to:
the sick: bringing flowers, food and companionship to the sick or those confined to their homes; assisting with worship and fellowship in nursing homes; preparing meals for the homebound; walking for cancer research; running to raise money for AIDS or other causes; praying for healing; the poor and oppressed: sharing food, clothes, furnishings and money with the needy at home and abroad; responding to migrants and refugees; staffing soup kitchens, clothing exchanges and shelters; visiting prisoners; working for just labor laws and full employment; addressing the underlying causes of poverty, hunger, homelessness;
the young and the weak: providing child care, pre-school programs and after-school programs; sponsoring sports and crafts programs; tutoring, mentoring; housing and staffing counseling centers; support for others whose needs are not physical but emotional and/or spiritual, opportunities for sharing one’s journey in Christ.
LGBTQUIA+: reaching out to all who feel marginalized; living out the motto, “God loves you, no exceptions”; welcoming and integrating all God’s people within the baptized people of God.
These activities and many others bear witness to God’s love and saving power, and create opportunities for sharing one’s personal faith and love for God.
Evangelism means proclaiming the Gospel by witnessing to the power of Christ to transform our lives, and inviting others to share in the transforming life of the community that is Christ’s Body on earth. Evangelistic ministry includes:
- the new member: inviting a person to one’s church; welcoming the new members into your midst.
- neighborhood Bible studies: sharing one’s own knowledge and experience of the Word.
While all baptized Christians are called on to be evangelists, those particularly gifted in this ministry and interested in a more formal role may consider becoming a licensed Evangelist.
Stewardship expresses in tangible form the gratitude and generosity of members in response to God’s love. It also provides the physical and organizational structures that make possible the congregation’s worship, life and ministry at home and beyond.
Through personal stewardship every baptized Christian shares in the community’s offering of itself to God, in service to the world.
Administration ensures the “institutional maintenance” of the congregation — its communications, finances, maintenance of building and property, stewardship, membership records, office activities and general administration.
Ministry in Daily Life and Discernment
Every member of a congregation is involved in aspects of these seven elements of the community’s life, the activities most readily identified as “ministry.” Every member is also called to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in all aspects of daily life at home with family and friends; in the workplace with co-workers, customers, clients, bosses and employees; and in the community as responsible neighbor, good citizen, honest taxpayer and informed voter.
The Church is not the only place where we experience God. We can experience God through the week. The Church is the place we gather once a week to celebrate the ways in which God has been with us the other six days.
In everything, we are called to be a vehicle of God’s presence in the world. Given the new challenges each day brings, this requires both flexibility and a sensitivity to those around us in order to recognize how God might wish to love them through us. Are we willing to be used by God in answer to someone else’s prayer?
Discovering and affirming gifts and talents can be an exciting process. Discernment involves exploring how these gifts and talents equip each individual to minister both in the Church and in the world. Such a process can help individuals and congregations deploy the great mix of gifts in response to God’s call, to witness to God’s love for the whole creation.
Personal discernment is as important for the person who enjoys preparing church suppers as for one called to priesthood. Knowing our gifts and using them to the degree that God intended is deeply satisfying. It provides freedom to express who we are in the context of obedience and service to God.
Being intentional about identifying gifts and talents may bring surprising results when unused or hidden attributes are brought to light. The cook may learn that others appreciate her reading ability as a lector. The mechanic may become a welcome visitor to the elderly. The doctor may become the fastest dishwasher on the kitchen crew.
Within the context of prayer and study, vocational searching often leads to questions about the various “orders” of ministry and the individual’s proper place within that matrix. God calls all Christians into ministry. Those called to the ministry of the baptized have a full and unique ministry as they continue to channel Christ’s redeeming love into our troubled world. Christians who experience God’s converting power in their lives will participate actively in corporate worship and fellowship, and in the programs and outreach projects of the congregation that best match their individual gifts and interests. Some may be called to a life of prayer and service as members or associates of a religious order. Others may be moved to pursue employment in Church-related programs, serving full-time within the Church community — teaching, managing buildings and financial affairs, directing outreach and service programs, as a musician, secretary or administrator.
In addition, intentionally using gifts and talents for the purpose of glorifying God can bring meaning to our lives. When our Lord said to Saint Peter, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets,” the apostle answered, “At Your word I will.” He was not going to do something different from what he had been doing daily, but this very thing he had been constantly doing, he did now with a sense of vocation and as an act of responsive obedience. The sense of vocation may alter the whole condition of life. It may take one from an office to the priesthood, as it took Matthew from his customs to his discipleship. It may take another into the religious life or out to the mission field. It may, on the other hand, only change the motive and quality of the life, leaving it the same but transfigured and vastly enriched.
The Baptismal Covenant
The Baptismal Covenant is spoken by the whole congregation at every Baptism taking place during the main service on Sunday. It is important to reflect on this basis of our faith as a part of the Discernment Process. How does the discerning person live out this statement in his/her daily life? It is found in The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305, and is included in the Annexes.
What does the term “vocation” mean?
What has brought you to the point of discovering this document? Whether it was personally observing some need, or matching one of your skills with some work that clearly needs to be done, or perhaps noticing another person doing something that you would also like to do, or as a result of your study of Holy Scripture, you are really responding to your call. You have taken the first step towards finding a path ahead that will enrich your own life, and the lives of others. It is a path that will encourage your spiritual life, and one that will explore and develop all that you have to offer, and desire to offer. This path is called discernment.
What does the term “discernment” mean?
Discernment is a process that allows us to distinguish between our own willfulness and God’s will; between our own self-defined purpose and God’s intended purpose for us; that is, God’s call to us to ministry. The verb discern comes from the Latin discernere, which means to separate or to distinguish accurately one choice, option or object from another. The process of discernment, when applied to Christian vocation (the Latin root is vocare, meaning to call,) is the process by which we bring clarity and insight to the ministry to which we are being called by God.
Discernment is seldom a linear process that moves quickly or neatly and in an orderly fashion. Indeed, the discernment process is a life-long journey that continues even after we have initially reflected upon the issue of vocation. Discernment is at the heart of everything we do in life.
Welcome to this process! Some of your preconceptions will be challenged, and some of your innermost feelings will be encouraged.
While a sense of call is always personal, the development of ministries needs to be organized and, in many cases, supervised. The next paragraphs show how this works.