Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bishop’s Draft Proposal for Common Ministry

The Common Ministry Conference

September 19, 2009

Some Background

Conversation about common ministry has been in the Christian community for a very long time. It arises from the church’s growing conviction that all authority in the church is grounded in our baptism, and that all baptized persons share in this authority.

In some dioceses, what we are calling common ministry is referred to as “total ministry” or the “ministry of the baptized,” and is viewed primarily as an approach to ministry that provides for pastoral care and worship leadership in small and/or remote congregations that cannot afford a full-time, seminary-trained priest. Certainly one of the most frequent models of Common Ministry is the raising up of a ministry team that provides congregational leadership in areas often assumed by a seminary-trained priest. However, this reflects far too restrictive an understanding of the underlying truth of shared authority for ministry. Shared authority for ministry is applicable to any and every congregation, from the smallest to the largest. In Southern Ohio, common ministry means shared ministry as a model for ministry that is broad and flexible enough to be adapted to different contexts.

The Diocese of Southern Ohio has been engaged in consideration of common ministry models for many years. One example is the participation in Living Stones Ministry. This is a gathering of bishops, clergy and laity for the purpose of providing resources and counsel to congregations seeking to explore and implement the principles of common ministry as adapted to their individual locations. This organization is just one of a number of wonderful resources for developing strategies for common ministry in our diocese, and we will remain active in our participation with this group.

We also are blessed with clergy and lay leaders in our diocese who have firsthand experience in implementing such strategies. Some have served as lay members of ministry teams, and some have been raised up locally to serve as priests on a ministry team. We have many resources to call upon as we consider common ministry as one of several ways in which we organize our ministries.

At the center of our conviction of the common ministry model is that one size does not fit all. This means there will be many permutations to this model as we work with individual congregations who wish to explore it. This also means that the principles of shared authority are just as applicable to a large church rich in assets as to a small church with declining assets.

This realization has led the diocese to begin a focused set of conversations about Common Ministry as it applies to Southern Ohio. To assist in focusing this conversation, the diocese is a recipient of a grant from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund. With the help of this grant, we are exploring the implications of common ministry in three specific areas: congregational ministry, Procter Camp & Conference Center and college/young adult ministry.

A design team has been working on ways to facilitate these conversations, and many in our diocese are already participating. More than 75 clergy and laity participated in a previous meeting at Procter led by Bishop Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan. Some of our congregations are working with consultants to explore ways in which they can incorporate common ministry in their congregations.

The design team believes that the diocese is now ready to take the conversation about common ministry a step further by calling a meeting of all the commissions and ministries that have a stake in how broadly we implement this model of ministry. The diocese has been called to participate in this next step on Saturday, September 19, 2009, at Procter. This meeting will continue our theological reflection on common ministry by considering its implications for all our local congregations.

Specific models of ministry will be presented for consideration, with ample opportunity for small-group discussion around specific needs and situations.

It is hoped that this meeting will yield important information for the bishop and the design team regarding the diocese’s readiness for common ministry and how the principles of common ministry can best bear fruit in Southern Ohio.

Draft Proposal on Common Ministry in the Diocese of Southern Ohio

This document is my attempt to organize my own reflections on common ministry and how it might look in Southern Ohio. It is meant to be a basis for conversation (I have numbered each paragraph to make it easier to refer to particular parts of it). I hope that you will read it, take issue with it, expand on it, run with it, or leave it to one side. If it can help “prime the pump” for discussion at the Common Ministry Conference on September 19, its purpose will have largely been achieved.

+Tom Breidenthal

1. The church’s mission is to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, as Messiah and lord.

2. We fulfill that mission chiefly by being ministers of the reconciliation between us and God, and between us and one another, won by Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:18: “All this has come from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”)

3. How do we become such ministers? This has emerged as the central question for the Diocese of Southern Ohio at this time. We seek to be formed, or further formed, for ministry.

4. This yearning for formation goes hand in hand with a general desire for transparency, broad leadership development, and more connection across congregational and regional lines.

5. These goals imply spiritual and moral disciplines or practices.

6. Transparency implies not only clarity about financial matters, but easy access to information and open decision-making. Transparency is about access to information and therefore access to power and, ultimately, about the diffusion of power, so all are empowered to minister in creative and untrammeled ways. Mutual support around formation for mission is impossible without transparency in this broader sense. We cannot help each other to be formed in Christ if we do not share our trials and blessings with one another openly. As a body we cannot discern what God is calling us to do in mission if we are not all engaged in making decisions about how our resources should be deployed. Transparency is the spiritual practice whereby we witness to God’s action in our lives and hold one another accountable for the decisions that we make.

7. By broad leadership development we mean the authorization and empowerment of all baptized persons to be ministers of Jesus Christ. Leadership is grounded in the embrace of our baptism and our empowerment, not only by one another but by the Holy Spirit, through study, a discipline of prayer and regular attendance at Sunday worship. Here we come to the heart of Christian formation. Each of us is called in Christ to make Christ known. Our lives may well be spent living into the particular gifts and opportunities God gives us to carry out this call. But we cannot freely exercise our call – and, indeed, we often cannot clearly discern it – without the support of a community that welcomes initiative and spreads leadership widely. By the same token, the community cannot fully embrace the ministry of all the baptized without developing structures and processes that make that embrace real and ongoing. Leadership development is the spiritual practice whereby the whole body acknowledges wisdom and vision wherever they surface.

8. By connection we mean our intention and desire not only to be transparent to one another, but bound to one another in fellowship and common action. To do this is to live out Paul’s injunction in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” As an institution, the diocese exists primarily to ensure that individuals and congregations are challenged to recognize their connection to fellow travelers who are arrestingly different from themselves. We cannot be formed together for mission, nor can we begin to be transparent to one another, if we do not work to forge the friendships and working relations that create a larger community in the first place. Connection is the spiritual practice whereby we open ourselves to new relationships, and recognize that we all have a claim on one another for attention and respect.

9. Each of these practices is grounded in scripture. Transparency is ultimately about the breaking down of false barriers (Ephesians 2:14). Broad-based and mutually accountable leadership is really a function of servant leadership, as Jesus modeled it (Mark 10:45). Such leadership is always engaged in sharing power rather than amassing it (Ephesians 4:11-13). Connection is grounded in Paul’s teaching that we are one body in Christ (Ephesians 4: 4-6).

10. Although transparency, leadership development, and connection are distinct principles, each implies and engenders the other two. There can be no true sharing of joys and burdens without open communication; there can be no open communication without broad access to decision-making. These three practices constitute a single, dynamic strategy for achieving our purpose as a diocese: formation for ministry. As we engage in these practices, we are formed as ministers of Christ’s reconciling work, and as we are thus formed, we do that ministry.

11. Each of these practices implies something positive about the ministry we are being formed for even as we engage in it: (1) Since the Good News of Jesus Christ is open to all, we all have an equal right and obligation to make the Gospel known by word and deed; (2) since anyone may lead, and all who lead are accountable to everyone, leadership is servanthood, and, by the same token, servanthood is itself authoritative: (3) all ministry is collaborative.

12. Together, these spiritual practices form one practice, one name for which is common ministry: a ministry that is open, egalitarian, and collaborative. This name invokes the idea of the common, with all the resonance it retains when we speak of The Book of Common Prayer.” Common” means everything owned by everyone, and so no secrets (transparency). “Common” also means shared responsibility, and so shared leadership and mutual accountability. Finally, “common” means shared identity, and therefore connection.

13. At our best, we are a community of believers who have truly thrown our lot in with one another, acknowledging the obligation each of us has to witness and, if necessary, to lead, and, accepting the call of Jesus, to be one with our brothers and sisters in Christ: “If one member suffers, all suffer together…; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Transparency, leadership development and connection all meet here, in the recognition that we are required in Christ to acknowledge that we are connected to one another and responsible for one another.

14. To summarize: Common ministry names this diocese’s commitment to formation for ministry through the spiritual disciplines of transparency, leadership development, and connection.

15. Common ministry applies to all congregations: rich, poor, urban, suburban and rural.

16. Pursuing common ministry will entail differing strategies in differing local situations.

17. Congregations capable of compensating several full-time priests might function both as gathering places for the larger Episcopal community and as resources for theological study, preaching, teaching and missional collaboration. This might be called the resource model. Such congregations would be expected to model common ministry, by providing resources to smaller congregations in their area, but also by raising up lay people within their own congregation to work closely with the clergy staff as preachers, teachers, pastoral associates, house church leaders, and so on.

18. Many of the congregations that might be called on to be resource centers already act on some version of that model. One of the great strengths of this diocese is that most congregations, whatever their size, assume their connection to and responsibility for other congregations in the diocese.

19. Deacons would play a crucial connective role here. According to ancient practice, deacons work closely with the Bishop to keep congregations facing outwards, to promote the Church’s mission to the larger world, and to help diverse communities work together for the common good. In most cases, deacons should be assigned to a local network of congregations, or to a ministry center for work among the other congregations connected to it by geography or through some more formal structure. Deacons associated primarily with a single congregation should be expected to be pursuing a ministry that engages that congregation ever more fully in diocesan, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration for the common good.

20. What about congregations that can easily sustain one full-time priest? Let us call this the full-time priest model. It is all too easy to revert to an old model here: priest as chaplain to an essentially passive and disempowered laity. But the paradigm of common ministry yields a different outcome. If a priest truly presides over the congregation as an assembly of people being formed by the Holy Spirit for ministry in the larger community, then several things can happen: (a) the congregation can experience itself as something more than a private fellowship; (b) individuals can explore and claim their own gifts and call as sharers in the work of ministry and administration; (c) the congregation can, through its priest, begin to present itself to the surrounding community as a public partner, and (d) it can develop a lay-led leadership role in the community. (Needless to say, congregations with a full-time priest should share their priest with congregations who have no priest, as much as they are able.) In the coming decades, one-priest congregations will play a crucial role in reclaiming the public witness of the church. There are many congregations in Southern Ohio in which this is already happening. In many ways, these congregations are the backbone of the diocese, and will continue to be so, as they are the engine of growth and innovation.

21. The key to this approach is clergy who are skilled as teachers and preachers, have a keen eye for institutional development, and are passionate about identifying and deploying the gifts of others for transformative change. In other words, we seek priests who are theologians, entrepreneurs and community organizers, and we therefore require them to have a seminary education or its equivalent, with adequate supervision in the two years immediately following ordination.

22. This immediately raises the question of congregations that are clearly not capable of compensating one priest full-time, but who are committed to formation for ministry. Such congregations should have the option of identifying and raising up a lay ministry development team, comprising three to five confirmed communicants in good standing, including a Pastoral Leader, a Worship Leader, and Preacher, whose role would be to gather the community in worship and formation, and to support and facilitate the ministry of all members of the body. No member of the lay ministry development team would be compensated. The discernment process for raising up this team would be under the supervision of the Bishop and the Commission on Ministry, and all appointments arising from this process would be subject to the approval of the Bishop. All members of the ministry development team would be offered adequate training under the auspices of the diocese. We might call this the local team model.

23. Such a team would work closely with a priest and deacon, both of whom would be working out of a resource congregation or be assigned to a local network of congregations. (Such an arrangement would acknowledge the expectation that every priest be professionally trained and skilled as a theologian, entrepreneur and community organizer, and that every deacon be grounded in more than a single congregation.)

24. Depending on local circumstances, it might be necessary for lay-led Morning Prayer to be the main Sunday service from time to time. So-called “deacon’s masses” would be discouraged as communicating a confused understanding both of the Eucharist and the diaconate.

25. Congregations with lay ministry development teams would be encouraged to participate in a cluster, or to be yoked with another congregation (perhaps with one of the resource centers).

26. It would be all too easy to default to old models at this point. It is sometimes assumed that congregations that go the local-team route are settling for “second best,” and that they are incapable of effective mission, growth, and impact on the larger community. On the contrary, identifying and raising up a local lay ministry development team is a courageous and bold move that indicates a congregation’s vigorous commitment to formation for ministry. It might well be that a local-team congregation that achieved the capacity to go to the full-time priest model would choose to continue to develop on the local-team model. Either approach is equally applicable to any growing and vigorous congregation – it all depends on local circumstance and the leading of the Holy Spirit. In no case would it be expected that a congregation that had thrived with a local team should abandon this in favor of the full-time priest model.

27. Ideally, each model should support and strengthen the other. Congregations with more than one priest should be a resource for congregations with no full-time priest; congregations with one full-time priest should aid the resource congregations in this work; and the congregations with locally raised-up lay ministry development teams should expect that their experience and leadership will help larger congregations become more and more collaborative in their approach to ministry. Here again, deacons would play a major role in ensuring that institutional development at congregational and regional levels be coupled with real engagement with other faith communities, all people of good will, and the poor.

28. The result? Greater stewardship of human and financial resources as we attend to economies of scale, the development of much more robust regional ministries, and lower boundaries separating congregation from congregation, presenting a more supple and fluid medium for the Holy Spirit.

29. Common ministry has obvious –and perhaps not so obvious – implications for deployment and training – including whom we recruit for leadership (ordained and lay); what constitutes appropriate formation; who goes where, and who makes that decision. The ordination process recently developed by the Commission on Ministry is well-suited to the identification and training of persons who have gifts as theologians, entrepreneurs and community organizers (all expected of priests in common ministry), and gifts as advocates, explorers and ministers of inclusion (all expected of deacons in common ministry). The Commission on Ministry would need to mobilize existing structures and resources (e.g., local vestries and mission councils, SOLLI, School for Diaconal Training) to create a discernment process for local congregations seeking to identify a pastoral team, and to develop a training program for such teams, once they have been identified.

30. In conclusion, common ministry is a spiritual practice in which transparency, leadership development and connection work together to further formation for ministry.

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