Interesting conversation going on over at the Bishop/Deputies listserve regarding the topic of Lay Eucharistic Ministers. I was very surprised to see - without naming names - who were those who are quite alarmed by the rise of the Lay Eucharistic Ministry. It was odd to see that many who support the theological innovations of the Episcopal Church are quite rigid when it comes to maintaining a distinct separation between the roles of clergy and the roles of laity. What's up with that?
One of the hallmarks of the renewal in the Episcopal Church was that the structures of the church were turned up side down. Where it was the clergy's job to do ministry and it was the laity's job to support that ministry - now it's the other way around. It is the clergy's job to support the ministry of the laity and they do this by equipping the people to go out and spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the marketplace, through their witness and their word. When lives have been transformed by Jesus through His Holy Spirit and His Word, it is a powerful witness to the world in which the laity live and work, in their neighborhoods and in their workplaces. This has been a hallmark of the renewal.
This has certainly been the case at Truro where lay leadership walks alongside the clergy leadership, side by side. What distinguishes people are their gifts - their natural gifts, but even more so the gifts of the Spirit that are expressed when people come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and are filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work of ministry. Sacramental ministry moves from the Table to the World.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
I was quite surprised to see clergy and lay deputies so adamant about drawing a line between the laity and the clergy and I'm still trying to figure out why people who proclaim themselves "progressive" on theological issues could be so "traditional," even rigid when it comes to separating the clergy and the laity. I'd be very interested in hearing other people's ideas on why this is so.
There is no way that Truro or our other sister churches in Virginia could do the ministries that we do with so many thousands of members without the equipping of the laity - not only in sending the ministry out but within the walls the church. We have over thirty Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) exercising their ministries every weekend in the services and even more going to visit those at home or in the hospitals. Some of our LEMs go on to seminary but not every seminarian has been a Lay Eucharistic Minister. We have licensed Lay Readers and not everyone who gets in the pulpit is ordained.
The job of the clergy have been to equip the laity and this was very dramatically expressed during our "500 in Five" mission outreach where we made it a goal to send out five hundred lay people in mission in five years. Every year (and it still continues) teams made up of clergy and laity go out into mission all over the world, at home and abroad. Those missions have transformed the lives not only of our adult membership, but of the young people as well.
What does it mean to be in the "priesthood of all believers?" What is the purpose of clergy and bishops in the equipping of the priesthood of all believers? What does "mutual submission" mean when we focus on the relationships between clergy and the laity?
A primary calling for the clergy - though not reserved only for them - is to teach the scriptures so that the laity can 'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the scriptures. Once the Word of God grows healthy roots in the hearts and minds of believers, they are prepared to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
It is indeed ironic that there is such a canonical and structural fundamentalism that takes root when the integrity of the scriptures is compromised. An educated and equipped laity, who know their scriptures, should not be taken lightly. Clerics and Bishops have known this for a long time, for a very long time.
There are those writing essays that think that the current crisis is caused by the work of a few clergy and the laity sit blindly and stupidly in their pews. But I would maintain that it is quite the opposite. Having worked for so many years to train and equip the laity to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures - and then find the leadership of the Episcopal Church walking away from the truth of the scriptures has caused more and more laity to stand up and be counted and say no more.
What gives the sacraments their power is that they point to the truth of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ as we see Him revealed in the Scriptures. If we divorce the scriptures from the sacraments, then the sacraments are free to be reinterpreted - reimagined - to fit the new theology and whatever else comes down the pike.
An equipped and educated laity - who take part in all aspects of the church, guided and encouraged by the clergy - awakens a sleeping Church to be about the mission of Jesus Christ to this broken world He came to save.
As we look forward into the new year, may we continue to grow in our knowledge and love for Jesus, expressed in the study of His Word, in the Sacraments, and by caring for the least, the last, and the lost. That is the laity - and the clergy's - calling together. And together that makes a church awake for Christ and alive for the world.