In recent years we’ve gone multi-media. By that I mean that at our annual congregational meeting we’ve turned to pictures to remember much of our story understanding that the gospel is told in life better than on paper. What we see with our eyes (and this year, heard with our ears too—thanks for the live music, Eric Weber!), do much more to evoke who and what we are becoming.
I suppose that has something to do with a needed adjustment after so many centuries of being so word oriented as a people of “the Book.” We are learning once again that the Word is incarnate—alive, dynamic, embodied in a way that so many words (so many words!) don’t do justice. So, if you haven’t seen it, or perhaps just to see again, I hope you’ll take a little time to view the slide shows we’ve put together over the past five years to remember some pretty astonishing “actors” and evocations of even more astonishing acts of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and many more virtues of a “Spirited” community walking the way of Jesus: http://www.standrewpc.org/media.html.
Throwing caution aside, a few words might be useful here in considering the year past, my eleventh with you! Change continues to be one of those constants for us, as it is with life in general and this age in particular.
Leigh Weber completed the last year of a two-year internship at St. Andrew. The first year she worked primarily with REACH, and this past year, as your pastoral intern. You gave her a gracious and hospitable welcome as she tried her hand at the variety of roles pastors play within congregations. And as is often the case, when we give, we receive. Leigh’s gifts in spiritual care led to some timely invitations for us as we asked questions about our own spiritual practices in relation to the life of service so many of you are accustomed to. Leigh’s gifts will continue to be near us as she seems headed toward an ordained role with REACH as a community pastor.
We welcomed Nicholas Hein to the role of Communications Coordinator in January. He has brought a unique set of skills, creativity, artistry and insight to his role that I am more grateful for each day. Nicholas’ gentle presence brings a calm stability and spirit of service to the church office. I am grateful for his passion for a church vibrant and authentic, and for the ways he gives himself to help us recognize and name that together. I’m also grateful for your patience and partnership as we’ve brought him up to speed.
We also noted a further evolution in our ministry in the Renton community with the ordination of Maggie Breen to a bi-locational role with St. Andrew and the ecumenical community as REACH’s executive director. Maggie’s ordination on February 8th marked the culmination of a long work of discernment and leadership on the part of the Session and many others within St. Andrew. I continue to be astonished by the leadership and good will this congregation demonstrates in the community when it comes to the proclamation of the gospel to those who live on the unstable periphery of our privilege.
As many of you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about ordination, and what these developments have to say about where the Spirit of God is taking the church. This fall I will conduct a survey of Seattle Presbytery leaders to explore this further as a part of my Doctor of Ministry work at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. Particular developments at St. Andrew are raising a number of related questions when it comes to the life of the church, the relationship of pastors to congregation, and more specifically, our shared ministry.
Stephen Sprinkle in a book called Ordination names a number of creative tensions in our understanding of ordination that are instructive for St. Andrew’s evolution. One that he names is particularly apropos for us: the tension between “the many and the few.” In his discussion about this he makes this stunning observation: “ordination is a sign of a liturgical act in which the prayers and petitions of the church are being granted.”[i]
I love this idea that these recent developments including the development of REACH into a vibrant ministry of compassion, justice and peace in our community and the ordinations of Maggie (and soon, Leigh) to these roles just might be an answer to prayer! Indeed, it is just that! In the spirit of this God who always seems to draw us beyond our comfort toward our salvation, it has led to more questions for many of us in relationship to the professionalization of Christianity and the sustainability of our institutions. We have some things to learn about this evolving shape of church as we find ourselves with such an abundance of clergy. One of the things we have to work out is what that has to do with the priesthood of all believers, with the work of the many in relationship to the work of these few.
So let’s bring Sprinkle back into the conversation: “Ordination to ministry arises from the gift of ministry given to the whole people of God. Ministry is the work of the whole Body of Christ and is the calling of the church.”[ii] Ordination to particular roles is ultimately for the church—as an example of people who have given of themselves in a particular way as a testimony to the common call we all share as ministers of the gospel—the priesthood of all believers. I am grateful for the reminder that our role as pastors is to encourage your role as ministers and I look forward to seeing what unfolds in coming years in relation to this.
Enough for now! You will find in the reports that follow many more reminders of specific ways in which God’s Spirit has worked in you and among us over the past year. I hope you will take it in with joy and thanksgiving. May we continue together in this work of mending the world that holds the promise of saving our own lives as well…to the glory of God!
[i] Sprinkle, Stephen (2004-04-01). Ordination: Celebrating the Gift of Ministry (Kindle Locations 2230-2231). Chalice Press. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Ibid. (Kindle Location 2218).
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.