Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Ministers of the Church

My Manifest article for the June, 2012 issue.

Dear Friends,
It has been so wonderful to hear your congratulations and excitement the last few days upon the announcement that I will get to spend more time with you at Epiphany, and will hopefully be called as your next rector in three years. It is a blessing to serve with such loving and beloved people. Thank you.

I had an unexpected, almost mysical experience in Lent last year. I was in the chapel at the 8:30am service, and preached about the Communion of Saints in the context of the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus. While at the altar, I half-expected to be particularly conscious of members of Epiphany that I have buried; but what happened, unbidden, was a sudden sense of the presence of long-gone rectors of Epiphany standing behind me with their hands on my shoulders. There were Uriah Tracey, and Lot Jones, and Hugh McCandless, and the others I am familiar with from stories and old photographs. I felt incredibly supported--and honored--by such a chain of august clergymen “having my back,” so to speak.

I think it’s a good metaphor for where Epiphany is today: we are incredibly blessed by our heritage and those who have gone before. They have given us a tradition of ministry, worship, and faithfulness. They have given us a building and property in Manhattan, and a (modest) endowment to fund our mission.

And just as I look very different from those rectors of the past, our church looks very different today than we did in generations gone by. I was very conscious as I felt those hands on my shoulders that I was young and female, and that many of those gentlemen would have been horrified during their lives at the spectre of a female priest standing at their altar--and at many of the other “innovations” of the last century: a racially integrated congregation, openly gay and lesbian members of the congregation and staff, weekly Eucharist, candles on the altar, and welcoming dogs into the sanctuary to name just a few.

I know that the ministry at Epiphany challenges me daily—constantly keeping me on my toes spiritually as I seek to work with our lay leaders and staff to develop structures that serve our future growth, to create meaningful programs for parishioners of all ages, to continue to inspire in our worship, preaching and music, and to have meaningful conversations with members—and non-members—about their faith, their doubts, and their lives.

The ministry ahead of us will challenge you, too—a glimpse of that is in this month’s Vestry page with an invitation to a “mid-year check-in”on June 10 following the 11am service. I know that our Vestry approaches everything in a spirit of prayerful discernment, neither overreacting nor trying to minimize the tasks ahead of us.

The Catechism of our Book of Common Prayer is very clear about one aspect of ministry. It asks, “Who are the ministers of the church?” and answers, “ The ministers of the church are laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” The order of those ministries make it clear: laypersons are the primary ministers of the church. YOU are the primary minister of this church--not me. I am an ordained minister, and I have a special role, but you are the one called to love, to serve, to pray, and to proclaim the gospel in the world.

So be conscious of your ministry. Invite a friend to church. Talk to your acquaintances about why you find it meaningful to be a part of the life of the Church of the Epiphany. I recently read a statistic (on the amusingly named website, www.churchmarketingsucks.com) that only 2% of Christians ever actually invite someone to church. But 82% of unchurched people would be open to joining someone at church if they were asked. As the article pointed out, it’s like a high school dance where everyone wants to dance, but everyone is afraid to ask a partner. And if the person you ask wants to know what Epiphany is about, and you want a quick sentence to give them, you can always use our mission statement:

Welcoming all, we are building a dedicated Christian community that seeks to know God and to serve others.

Epiphany is building--we are not done. We are dedicated, and we are Christians, and we are a community that loves one another, celebrates together, and mourns together. We are all seekers--longing to know God better, and to serve our neighbor more faithfully. And I am so excited by God’s prospects for our future.

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