On the Ministry of All the Baptized
1.0 As the Body of Christ, the Church is an organism. Biological metaphors often enable us to see the nature and life of the Church most clearly.
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!
1.3 The purpose of these gifts (charismata) is to build up the Body of Christ for the work of mission and ministry, both internally and externally. To embrace them as a means of self-aggrandizement or ego gratification is a serious abuse.
1.4 According to our catechism (BCP pp. 855-856), the ministry of all the baptized people of God—laity, deacons, priests, and bishops—is to “represent Christ and his Church.” The manner of such representation varies according to the particular gifts one has received, but all share the responsibility of representing both the Body and the One who is its Head.
On the Ministry of the Laity
2.0 The laity (from the Greek, laos) comprise the whole People of God. This is part of the status that Holy Baptism confers. Without the laity, there is no Church. There is a real sense in which even those who are ordained remain members of the laity, because the People of God consists of all the baptized.
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.
2.2 The canons of the Episcopal Church specify that a layperson in “good standing” is understood to be faithful in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day unless for good cause prevented, and faithful in working, praying, and giving for the Kingdom of God.
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.
2.3 All the people of God are called to be stewards of the resources that have been entrusted to them. The normative benchmark of financial stewardship is the tithe—10% on income (whether before or after taxes) given without qualification to the Eucharistic Community at which a Christian regularly receives Holy Communion.
2.4 The discernment and exercise of spiritual gifts is also essential for faithful and responsible stewardship.
2.5 For a relatively small percentage of laypersons, discernment of spiritual gifts leads to recognition of a call to ordained ministry. Such a call is discerned in community, and never simply by an individual. Ordination is the fruit of a dynamic work of the Holy Spirit that involves the ordinand, the Eucharistic Community in which the call was discerned, the Bishop, and those throughout the diocese who have a share of responsibility in identifying suitable candidates for ordained ministry.
2.6 Some members of the laity, as well as some members of the clergy, are called to an extraordinary type and level of personal consecration as disciples of Jesus. Religious communities—of women, men, or both sexes—living under vows, support the cause of the gospel and the mission of the Church in numerous and varied ways.
Of the Ministry of Bishops
3.0 Between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus established a community of disciples that was charged with the work of proclaiming the gospel, baptizing, and making other disciples in “all the world.” He also appointed a core of disciples who were entrusted with the ministry of leadership and oversight, those who came to be known as Apostles.
3.1 In due course, the Apostles transmitted, through prayer and the laying-on of hands, their ministry of leadership and oversight to successors, who, from earliest times, became known as Bishops. The Episcopal Church is among those whose bishops share in the historic succession. This succession serves as a sign of continuity with “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (Acts 2:24, quoted in the BCP baptismal rite), and as a sign of the Church’s unity across time and space, even in her impaired and fractured state.
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.
3.21 As a personal link to the Apostles, and to other churches also visibly and sacramentally linked to the Apostles, the Bishop’s primary ministry is to preside at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and preach the Word of God. The Church is never more fully herself than when gathered at the altar with the Bishop, along with the presbyters (priests) and deacons, celebrating the Eucharist. The ministry of Word and Sacrament is foundational to everything else that the Bishop is and does.
3.22 It is also a critical aspect of the Bishop’s ministry to ensure local ministry for the people of God by ordaining those appropriately called and chosen to be Deacons and Priests, and to join in the ordination of other bishops.
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.
3.32 A shepherd provides life-sustaining nourishment (“green pastures and still waters,” per Psalm 23). The Bishop is the chief teacher of the diocese. This teaching office is exercised both directly, through writing and speaking, and indirectly, by encouraging and equipping the priests of the diocese in their own teaching ministry.
3.33 In exercising the teaching office, a bishop is resourced by a personal discipline of prayer and study. Teaching is most effective when it is winsome and lively, shining the light of the gospel onto the constantly shifting landscape of secular thought and culture, engaging it irenically as well as courageously.
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.
3.35 Part of the Bishop’s pastoral (shepherd-like) care involves offering encouragement, solace, and counsel to the entire flock, but especially to the clergy. The Bishop is a pastor to the pastors.
3.36 A shepherd cares about sheep that are straying and persistently labors to return them to the fold. Discipline is a proper and necessary extension of pastoral care. A shepherd’s crook has a “business end” for a reason. A wise shepherd knows how to be both gentle and forceful, and what sort of touch is most helpful in each circumstance.
Of the Ministry of Deacons
4.01 The ministry of deacons is accountable to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church (which includes the texts and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer), the constitution and canons of the diocese, the tradition of Catholic practice throughout history, the authority and pastoral guidance of the Bishop, and the delegated authority of the presbyters in charge of the Eucharistic Communities to which deacons are assigned.
4.02 While, in most cases, a deacon will be assigned to work in and with a particular Eucharistic Community, all deacons serve directly under the Bishop’s authority, and at the Bishop’s pleasure.
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.
4.1 As a matter of normative expectation, a deacon has an identifiable area of ministry that is at least on the margins of, if not entirely outside, the institutional framework of the Church. In discerning a vocation to ordination as a deacon, the presence of such a ministry is a presumptive (though not conclusive) positive indicator, and the absence of such a ministry is a presumptive (though not definitive) negative indicator.
4.2 The liturgical ministry of a deacon is most coherent when it is an authentic reflection of that deacon’s secular (i.e. “in the world”) ministry. When a deacon is liturgically present (as distinguished from merely happening to be in the room at the time) at a celebration of the Eucharist, he or she reads the Holy Gospel, prepares the gifts at the Offertory, cleans up after Holy Communion, gives the Dismissal, and also any ancillary stage directions to the congregation (e.g. “Let us confess our sins …”).
4.30 While the rubrics specify that either a deacon or layperson may lead the Prayers of the People, because it is a deacon’s peculiar office to present the needs of the world to the Church, a deacon ought to be at least significantly involved in these prayers, even if perhaps only in the naming of specific intercessions at the appropriate times.
4.31 The liturgical ministry of deacons flourishes when it is allowed to bear witness to the mark of servanthood. It is not inherently part of the diaconal charism to preside at public worship. A deacon is not, merely by virtue of order, automatically privileged to do so in the absence of a Priest.
4.32 A Liturgy of the Word and Administration of Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament presided over by a deacon, while permitted in the canons, lies outside the normative parameters of diaconal ministry. Consequently, in the Diocese of Springfield, it requires explicit episcopal permission. Such permission should be sought only in the most exceptional, extenuating and compelling circumstances.
4.40 The community of deacons in a diocese properly constitute a college. It is appropriate that they assemble on a regular basis for purposes of prayer, consultation, continuing formation, and mutual support.
4.41 On occasion, the college of deacons may choose to speak, under the pastoral guidance of the Bishop, with a collective voice. In this way, deacons partially fulfill their charism as the conscience of the Church, holding the Body of Christ accountable to her mission of seeking and serving Christ in all people.
4.42 The Bishop may appoint, in accordance with the canons, a deacon to serve as convener of the College of Deacons.
4.5 According to canon law, those who are to be ordained Priests are first ordained as Deacons. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but the practice is of such universality and antiquity that it seems imprudent to change it peremptorily. In the Episcopal Church, such “transitional” deacons remain in that order for a minimum of six months.
On the Ministry of Priests
5.0 In the New Testament, it is impossible to discern a clear divide between the ministry of Bishops (overseers) and the ministry of Priests (presbyters, elders). Nonetheless, during very early times still (mid-second century), such a distinction appears and becomes quite sharp.
5.1 The ministry of a priest is not of a fundamentally different character than the ministry of a bishop, but is, rather, an extension of the Bishop’s ministry through delegation. The difference is not one of kind so much as one of degree and scope. Most of what has already been said about the pastoral, homiletical, sacramental, and catechetical ministry of the Bishop applies equally to priests, only on a smaller scale.
5.2 The Bishop, as chief priest and pastor of the diocese, lives in a close collegial bond with the presbyters. Together, they 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.”
5.30 The classic pattern of priestly ministry takes place in the context of a parish, as bread-breaker and word-proclaimer to a local community of Christians who gather at the same altar on a regular basis. A parish priest becomes a “parson,” a term that signifies a collective entity—in this case, the entire parish community—being symbolically concentrated in one individual. A parish priest is that community’s “parson” with a presumption of a close sharing in the joys, sorrows, and ordinary experiences of the people.
5.31 As “parson,” the parish priest also becomes the collective face of the community in that community’s secular context. While it is the job of all the members of the laos to represent Christ in their daily lives, those in the world will tend to look to the Priest as the local Christian community’s ambassador, and will tend to judge the parish based on their experience of its pastor.
5.4 However, not all priests are “in charge” of a local Eucharistic Community. Some are retired from such ministry and continue to serve the diocese by assisting in a parish or supplying where there is a vacancy. Others have an extra-parochial ministry, and earn their living in a secular or para-church context, such as chaplaincy (hospital, school, military) or in a secular position, very often in an academic setting. Others, particularly those who came to ordination later in life, after a secular career, stand in “ready reserve,” able to be deployed by the Bishop on short notice as needs arise.
6.0 When a local church (diocese) is well-ordered—with the Bishop, Laity, Deacons, and Presbyters all exercising their charisms in a cohesive manner—and the collective heart of the people is centered on him who is the Head of the Body, the circumstances exist for the church to grow into the calling of all churches, which is to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ, compellingly announce to the world the coming kingdom of God, and model to the world what life in that kingdom looks like.
Feast of William Laud, 2016
It was with great joy that I read this.
Thank you bishop Dan, this is very will put and said, we all need to follow in this prayerful in spirit here in Indiana.