Aiming for some clear thinking on ministry

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The Rt Rev Dan Martins, bishop of Springfield; who has had some troubling views on the place of a diocese in the wider church, has nevertheless offered a teaching to his own diocese on the nature of ministry that is clear, concise and offers much to consider to anyone involved or interested in ordination processes or ministry in general.

Titled “According to the Gifts We Have Been Given: Ministry in the Diocese of Springfield,” it lays out the bishop’s thoughts on the orders of the church and how they fit and work together.

It is broken down into five sections, On the Ministry of… all the Baptized, the Laity,  Bishops, Deacons, and  Priests; with each section having bulleted points.  He begins by offering the metaphor of the church as an organism – a living and breathing thing.  Of that organism he writes:

1.1     As an organism, the Church is also organized. The God whom we serve is a God of order, not of chaos. Holy Orders are a sacramental sign of God’s governance of the Church. The Preface to the Ordination Rites in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) elucidates the scriptural, theological, and historical foundations of ordained ministry.

1.2     Underlying even this foundation, however, is the mark of identity that is bestowed in Holy Baptism. According to our liturgy, baptism bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit (see the prayers and formulas on p. 308). It is consonant with several passages of scripture (Isaiah 11, Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4) to infer that, with the gift of the Spirit also come gifts from the Spirit. The Spirit is a gift who comes bearing gifts!

 

Of laypersons he writes;

2.1     While laypersons are appropriately appointed or elected to certain internal functions (altar servers, lectors, ushers, choristers, altar guild, catechists, wardens, Mission Leadership Team, synod delegates, etc.), the ordinary location of lay ministry is in families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. These are the venues in which laypersons “represent Christ and his Church” (per the BCP Catechism) and participate in the priestly character of the Church by offering “[them]selves, [their] souls and bodies, as “a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” to God.

and

2.3     In no lesser degree than the ordained, laypersons are called to spiritual discipline, holiness of life, mutual accountability, and maturity in Christ. The Anglican spiritual tradition commends a threefold Rule of Life: Eucharist on Sundays and Principal Feasts (plus Ash Wednesday and the Paschal Triduum), some form of the Daily Office, and some form of daily private prayer and devotion.

 

In his thinking on deacons, he offers some of the best and clearest definitions of that ministry I have seen, especially in outlining the inherently disruptive and radical nature of that order;

4.03     A deacon inhabits a position of liminality—between church and world, between following and leading—and is therefore, by virtue of order, a disturbing and unsettling presence.

4.04   At the same time, it is within the charism of the order for a deacon to work within a wide range of administrative and executive responsibilities within the life of the Church.

4.05    A deacon is a personal icon of Christ the Servant, finding a ministerial pattern in our Lord’s washing of his disciples’ feet on the night before his suffering and death. This is not to undermine the call of the whole people of God to engage in servant ministry, but, rather, to galvanize them toward that end. Deacons serve by leading and lead by serving.

4.06     The voice of deacons, therefore—whether individually or as a college—is more prophetic than institutional, more charismatic than juridical. Their authority resides in their sacramental identity as icons of Christ the Servant, and not from any polity-based entitlement. Their power as moral agents is rooted precisely and paradoxically in their lack of power as political agents. Their powerlessness as they speak for the powerless is what commands the attention and respect of the People of God.

4.07     While deacons are canonically and sacramentally members of the clergy, the character of the order is profoundly different from that of presbyters and bishops. In view of the inherent good in making that distinction more visible, it is worth carefully thinking through the implications of deacons routinely wearing apparel that is widely associated in popular perception with priests. In many circumstances, some other distinctive symbol may be a more effective sign of order than a clergy collar.

 

Given his history of supporting those who led several dioceses in their attempts to separate themselves from the church, including being one of nine who filed an amicus brief in support of the breakaway diocese in Fort Worth, TX it might be worth carefully parsing his thoughts on the ministry of bishops.

Unsurprisingly he offers an understanding of episcopal ministry rooted in conservatism (in the sense of maintaining something and not right-wing politics), clearly rejecting the prophetic voice for that ministry.

3.34  A shepherd provides protection from predators. In the ordinal of the 1928 Prayer Book, a prospective bishop promised to “drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word.” In the 1979 liturgy, the ordinand promises to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline” of the Church. While there is a place for speculative theologians in the life of the Church, those who push the boundaries of the received tradition of faith and practice, such a charism is not compatible with the office of bishop. A bishop, by virtue of that very position, is a conserving force within the Body of Christ, a voice of deliberation and prudence.

Nonetheless, his main point is still solid, that the bishop has two mutually reinforcing loci of action; the leadership of apostolic ministry and the pastoral care of a shepherd;

3.2     The Bishop is a personal icon of the Apostles’ authority of leadership and oversight. Apostolic authority is most clearly manifest when the Bishop exercises it with both confidence and humility, from the heart of a servant, grounded in the love of Christ, courageously and justly, and, as with all the gifts of the Spirit, never for personal gain of any sort.

and

3.3     The Bishop is also a personal icon of the ministry of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

3.31    A shepherd provides leadership. It is the Bishop’s vocation to be “listener-in-chief” of a diocese, listening to the Holy Spirit in the Bishop’s own life of prayer, listening to that same Spirit through the voices of the people whom the Bishop serves, and then articulating a compelling vision for the life and ministry of the diocese.

 

Bishop Martins has done the church a good turn in offering this clear and concise teaching.  It is a good and accessible document that could be a useful starting point for discussions on ministry at all levels of the church.  Read it in its entirety here.

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One Response to "Aiming for some clear thinking on ministry"
  1. This is indeed "clear and concise teaching" on ministry that could be good for opening discussion. I would like such a discussion to include making explicit the implicit theology of ordination that underlies this (or any) teaching. For example, in section 5.2, not quoted in this article, Bishop Martins says "Together, [the Bishop and presbyters] exercise a shared stewardship in the work of pastoral care for the flock of Christ committed to their charge. Their common disposition toward the laity is that of St Paul in Galatians 4:19: 'My little children, with whom I am in travail until Christ be formed in you.' "

    I would argue that this infantilization of the laity, while still widely if unconsciously practiced, is not an essential part of a theology of ordination. Perhaps Bishop Martins really agrees with that, but the underlying assumptions should be made explicit.

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