Let us pray.
Almighty God, in every age you have called out men and women to be your faithful servants. We believe you have now called us to join that great company who seek to follow you. Grant unto us today and always a clear vision of your call and strength to fulfill the ministry assigned to us. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
2 Corinthian 4:1-7 – NIV
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
There is a book entitled, On the Wings of the Morning: Two Islands, One Church, which was written by the late Bishop Richard Martin, an African-American, a former Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Long Island, among various other positions he held as a bishop. In his book he reflects on the journey through life to the episcopal ministry, as well as that which he saw being exercised by those with whom he interacted over the decades, and those under his jurisdiction. He expresses a deep concern about an apparent changing paradigm in the understanding of the call to ordained ministry and a departure from its roots which are grounded in positive notions of community, service and sacrifice.
In one section of the book, in reflecting on the awesome nature of a call to ordained ministry, he speaks of his interaction with those persons who were aspiring to the ordained ministry, and underscores his uneasiness with those who have pat answers when asked why they want to be ordained, all nicely formulated. At the same time he states his respect for those who are almost embarrassed by the question, as they find it hard to put into words the mystery of a sense of calling from God. In one sense, he likens the more credible position to those who express a sense that it is God who has grabbed them and laid hands on them, thrusting them forth on this path which they are unable to resist.
St. Paul expresses a similar sense of being grabbed and compelled in 1 Corinthians 9:16:
For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward: if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
Bishop Martin, writing nearly two decades ago, deposits the notion that the climate and conditions under which ministry is exercised today have been subject to drastic changes. He observes:
There is a pervasive negativism and frustration in the ranks of the clergy. To read the reports of clerical associations and caucuses is to read the report s of a group who feel set upon, abused, and deserted. Clergy often huddle together as an embattled group for the sake of survival.
Admittedly, there has been a radical climate change in which mission and ministry are carried out over the past fifty years. Expectations on the part of clergy and congregations have been heightened without being mutually complementary. (Both sets of expectations are not moving in the same direction)
Congregations are demanding accountability in terms of job performance and stated goals. Today, clergy are procured with time contracts and term reviews. The old perception of life tenure is no longer a reality.
In face of this swirl of negative comments and apparent changing context in which to exercise ministry, how do we as clergy and laity make sense of the call to ordained ministry, and what can we affirm about ministry that throws it in a positive light? The text comes from one who had a successful ministry, faithfully exercised to the point of staying the course leading to his death. And yet, he seemed to have been fully aware of a tension between the challenges, temptations and failures of ministry, on the one hand, and the power and effectiveness of ministry faithfully exercised, on the other.
In the earlier section of this Second Epistle, Paul seems to be caught in a defensive mode in face of a church which was questioning his authenticity and standing as a true apostle. So he sets out something of the nature of his understanding of ministry. He points out first of all, that ministry is not about the individual in his or her own personhood. So it is not about the presentation or selling of ourselves, our virtues and qualities, or even our wisdom, or reminding the congregation that I am the Rector here. Ministry is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as slaves to this cause. It is interesting that Paul does not even suggest at this point that we are brothers of our Lord in this enterprise, but slaves, those who have no right of existence on their own but only as they are possessed by the one to whom they belong.
Ministry then speaks about being possessed and held captive to the one in whose service we function.
In this and the first Epistle, Paul seems to be highlighting the problem of individualism, competition, egoism and the resultant divisions which this create in the life of the church. The question of who is for Paul and who is for Apollos, and who is authentic as against who is a peddler of the gospel, has a deleterious effect on the life of the church and the effectiveness of the ministry exercised. This must raise some questions for us as to the way in which we function in the exercise of our ministry.
Paul’s use of the image of one person in ministry planting and the other watering, with the growth being left to God, is indicative of his understanding of ministry as a corporate and communal enterprise in which we all share. In that way, each person’s work does not have an independence of its own, but is part of a communal project. More than that, Paul’s enunciation of ministry here reminds us of two other important dimensions to ministry, namely, that in the exercise of ministry we are part of an ancient and ongoing tradition, as well as part of the Church catholic. To that extent those to be ordained will be part of a ministry which links you to the Anglican Communion across the world, and the church catholic across the centuries, and in the mysterious community of the faithful, living and departed. So those of us involved in ministry must ask ourselves constantly, to what extent does my perception and agenda take priority over whatever else may be the focus of the rest of the church? Or do I see myself about the same mission, sharing in the tradition and communal process of planting and watering, so that the growth which is the outcome of effective ministry may take place, thereby advancing the life of the entire community of faith?
The Call to Ordained Ministry
I want to go back to what I would consider some basics of Ministry, and in so doing invite your attention to Jeremiah 1:4-9.
Here, the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet is presented as a confrontation and dialogue with God which proceeds through four stages: commissioning, objection, reassurance, and sign. There is a sense in which this pattern is characteristic of the call of all of the great prophetic figures of the Old Testament, and has been carried over into the Christian understanding of the call of God to persons to exercise various ministries within the life of the Church. The call becomes the basis for the authority exercised by the messenger of God. But it does not stand alone. The authority must be manifested in appropriate behavior, attitude and character on the part of the messenger in terms of appropriate attitude, relationships, words and actions, driven by a strong sense of dependence upon God’s guidance and enabling through the activity of the Holy Spirit.
In the narrative of this call we encounter the notion that the call may come to an individual as an implanted notion even before one is able to acknowledge it:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations”.
There is present in the narrative of the call of Jeremiah a sense of engagement with God which sought to dismiss or downplay the call of God upon his life by resorting to a path of repression and excuses in relation to the call– “Ah Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy”. In the contemporary life of the church we are acutely aware of the fact that there are many members who are the voices of repression and excuses for our young men and women who express a sense of being called – “Put the foolish thought out of your head”.
As in the case of Jeremiah, the excuses must come to an end, not because God has wearied the person by constant badgering but because of the assurance that in giving one a commission which is received in obedience, then there is the assurance of accompaniment and empowerment along the journey. I find this articulation of the struggle with the call present among candidates for ordination but, at times, even more so among those for whom ministry is a second vocation.
Within the context of the life of the institutional church we talk about the inward and the outer call, meaning that there is an awareness of a sense of call which the individual may experience and express, but the church understands that such a call must be discerned and tested by the designated authority charged with the responsibility for guiding the church in the selection and ordination of persons to exercise ministry in its name. So, here we are with Olando, Dwane, Natalie, and Marjorie, who have responded to such a call, and are now about to undertake a specific ministry as the expression of God’s call for this time and in the life of the people of God. So, here they are as persons who have received the necessary preparation, and to be bestowed with the authority as expressed in the vows of ordination which they will make shortly.
The liturgy for the Ordination of a Priest which you have before you sets out for us the role of the priest in a way that is relevant to our reflection, and you will pardon me in so doing, since those to be ordained are transitional deacons. The Charge given to the priest at Ordination, which Olando will receive shortly, is one which locates ministry as one shared with the Bishop and colleagues as servant and shepherd. Servant and shepherd to the community of faith, the people of God.
In the Charge by the Bishop it speaks to the activities which must spring from this understanding of the call to pastoral ministry:
– The proclamation of the word of the Lord – (Preaching);
– The Administration of the Sacraments and the preparation of the people for sharing in them;
– Leadership of worship, and the offering of intercessions for the people;
– Teaching of the faith, and being a source of inspiration by word and example;
– Being a Pastor of persons, with a primacy attached to the care of the sick and the dying;
– Having as his/her pattern our Lord, the Good Shepherd and standing alongside the people of the community of faith in the witness to the world.
We may note that the deacon is charged specifically to care for the poor, the needy, the sick and all who are in trouble, as well as assist the Bishop and priest in public worship and in administration of God’s word and sacraments.
There is an element which is captured in the liturgy for ordination which it is easy to overlook, and it is what I like to refer to as the instrumental role of the spirituality and ministry of the ordained in the religious life of the people of God. In the Daily Office which as an ordained person within the Anglican Communion I am obliged to say each day, there is a set of versicles which proceed in this way:
L: Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
R: Let your people sing with joy.
These words have their roots in Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple, and which is echoed in the Book of Psalms (132).
This is an awesome responsibility, reminding us that in this call to ordained ministry, we hold to some degree the temporal and eternal life of our people in our hands.
The Charge given to the priest at his ordination begins not by focusing on the priest but by locating the ministry of the priest within the call to a common ministry shared by all who belong to the Church, the family of God. While it is true that ministry is grounded in the call which the individual has discerned from God, our ministry is really grounded in that common element which we share with all members of the body of Christ, namely, our call to Christian discipleship, our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, and our baptism into the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The ordinal expresses it this way, “All baptized persons are called to make Christ known as Saviour and Lord, and to share in the renewing of His world”. The service continues by speaking of the priest, “bearing together with them a common witness to the world”.
What is being called for is genuine commitment and mutual support which has as its ultimate goal the support of each other as co-pilgrims along the road to discipleship and the fulfillment of our mission to the world. In the long run, there is a mutuality to the process by which the effectiveness of the ministry of the ordained will impact the effectiveness of the laity and vice versa.
The liturgy for ordination speaks of it as a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, which of necessity involves us in what is an understanding of what is called the sacramental principle and sacramental theology. The sacramental principle asserts that matter is the instrument and vehicle of the spirit, so that simple elements from daily life, namely water and bread and wine can become the vehicle or channel by which the grace of God is effectively communicated. The Catechism describes Sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace”. Indeed, biblical literature declares the universe as the expression of the Divine Spirit. Not only are the Psalms permeated with such notions but, we are also aware of those persons whose spirituality is grounded in nature and the environment as significant points of contact with the divine spirit. All nature is in a sense sacramental and as such reveals God.
Why is this focus on Sacrament of relevance? Let me suggest that Paul’s use of the image of earthen vessels to capture the ministry to which we are called, is a very powerful sacramental image to highlight the frailty, finiteness, and inadequacy of those chosen of God to be the instruments of his grace to God’s people and the world. The effectiveness of our ministry is not the outcome of our initiative, commitment and good intention, but of the grace of God which flows through us in spite of our fallen human nature. Indeed, there is that other dimension to the whole use of the sacramental image, namely, that failure of a moral or religious nature on the part of the ordained in the exercise of his/her ministry, does not negate the possibility of the grace of God flowing through our ministry. I have been reliably informed that having done a course with Fr. McIsaacs on the Sacraments, this should be well imprinted in the minds of those to be ordained.
In the context from which the theme for this address comes, Paul, drawing on the familiar biblical images of light and darkness, points out that it is God who has caused his light to shine in our hearts, as the transforming and enlightening agent, and which then reveals the mystery of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The implication of Paul’s reference to the light shining in the darkness is two-fold. Firstly, that the light will reveal knowledge of the mysteries of the gospel to the minister and, secondly, so that the minister may become the vehicle for the enlightenment of God’s people.
Paul knew also that ministry was not about personal proficiency, profiling, or charisma however impressive these characteristics may be. A pivotal foundation of any ministry is constituted by the people. There is no ministry without people. Ministry is an interpersonal vocation and as such must manifest itself in the presence of people whose lives have been touched by the integrity, rectitude, faithfulness and compassion of the one offering ministry, and exercised with zeal and passion. Paul in responding to his opponents pointed out that unlike them, he did not need to seek letters of commendation from persons in authority regarding his credibility and integrity, as he prefers to let his work and witness among his people speak for itself, and the Corinthians are his letters. The very existence and state of the community of faith in Corinth was a guarantee of the authenticity of his ministry. So, my sisters and brothers you can ignore those measures of success and effectiveness in ministry that like to play the numbers game, whether in terms of membership or finance, suggesting that mega churches are to be the paradigms of success.
Paul does a further play with certain images from the faith by contrasting law and spirit. He wants to show that his ministry is guided by the Holy Spirit and not by the letter of the law, as it the case with his opponents, and so he says that the Corinthians are his letter written not with ink on paper or on a tablet of stone, but by the Spirit of the living God on human hearts. So then, for Paul, the existence of this community of faith infused with the life giving Spirit of God is the testimony which he has to offer to commend his ministry. Perhaps in some way, in the exercise of ministry through the ages, those who lead congregations must step back and assess the extent to which they have infused and continue to infuse the congregation with this sense of the life giving Spirit of God. My sisters and brothers it is far easier to blame the congregation for all that is amiss, than to do this honest reflection.
We may note further that although St. Paul was able to point to his sincerity of purpose in undertaking his ministry and the evidence which the community of faith provided concerning the authenticity of his ministry, these things amounted to nothing without an acknowledgement of the initiative and activity of God which undergirded these things. Paul had to acknowledge that the call and the competence to undertake and to fulfill the ministry came from God through Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, “through God’s mercy we have this ministry”. Paul highlights this by comparing the competence of his opponents which they seek to establish on the basis of human authority, evidenced by the letters, whereas for Paul, God is the ground of his competence. As he writes in verse 5b – 6:
“our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life”.
Throughout this chapter and in subsequent ones, Paul draws on several images to drive home his point. As we have seen already, Paul makes use of the contrasting images of the old and the new covenant, making it clear that in the new covenant to which he aligns himself the spirit gives life. Paul’s ministry is governed by the Spirit, producing the new life of authentic humanity – “the Spirit of the Living God” writing on human hearts. This new life is radically contrasted with what he characterizes as the “ministry of death”, which by implication, would be embodied by his opponents. But Paul also draws on an image of power to further underscore the life-giving quality of his ministry. For him, it is God who empowers him to carry out his mission, a mission which is beyond the capacity of fallen human nature. Thus in Chapter 4 verse 7 he writes:
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
That which made possible, sustained, and was life-giving in the ministry of Paul did not come from his personal charisma and charm, from the sincerity and intensity of his commitment, or even his hard working qualities, but from the undergirding and infusing power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in and through him.
For you who now take on the role of ministers of the gospel, there needs to be a sustained devotional discipline which keeps you connected to the source of your power. Too often we have become disconnected and blind to the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, and as a consequence have continued running our ministry and the church on a memory rather than actual communion with the living Lord.
One of the words which have taken on new meaning with developments in computer technology is menu, which no longer speaks of food but of a multiplicity of options which the individual may exercise in using technology. This has fitted very well with the individualism which has characterized life in the 21st century. With this orientation we can even choose in ministry what pathways we will follow in spite of what the body corporate is doing or affirms.
Ministry in the church today, if it is to be authentic, must be informed and infused by the Holy Spirit of God with our personal charisma, gifts, perspective and agenda being subject to the same, and in so doing, being subject to the wellbeing and welfare of the Body of Christ, the Church. If the Church of the New Testament needed ministers who were guided by these principles, she certainly stands in need of them today.
Ministry in the Contemporary World
It is obvious that the context within which the ordained are called upon to exercise ministry in today’s Jamaica and the Cayman Islands is a changing one. As nations, and as church we find ourselves in a strange place in which the landscape smacks of dereliction and degeneration. So, while on the one hand there are serious economic problems facing our nation, there is also the reality that the crime statistics are high and are being fuel by greed, the de-valuation of human life, a seeming inability to solve domestic conflict, corruption, indiscipline, unemployment and poverty, and civility is being exchange for coarseness.
The religious landscape of this country and our place in it as mainline denominations is changing rapidly. At the same time the ranks of the un-churched are swelling, and growth is being reported among some of the newer churches, with a proliferation of churches emerging across the island. In this context we have to do our own critical analysis, asking fundamental questions about our identity and mission within this society, but in doing so we cannot lose sight of our core business. Not only are you becoming the newest kids on the block where ministry is concerned but, for the most part you can bring to our church the youthfulness which should enable us to connect with the young generation who are the children of technology and the social media, failing which you will be coming on board to uphold the status quo and continue our ministry to an ageing population moving in one direction.
You are beginning your ministry at a time of change which is going to be unsettling for many, and some of the conditions of ministry to which we have become accustomed may no longer exist. It is inevitable that some congregations will close, while some will be merged to reconfigure some of our Cures, financial viability will be a serious challenge for some, demographic changes will have their impact on the membership of congregations, and the way ministry will be delivered will be different. Thus, it is likely that the Supplementary Ministry will become more a feature of ministry within the diocese, with fewer numbers of clergy being full-time and seminary trained. Those, like yourselves with such training will find that you have to function in a different role in relation to the Supplementary ministers and the lay leaders in the congregations. As more and more housing developments emerge as gated communities which do not provide for commercial activities and the construction of churches, you may find that small house churches may be part of the ministry which you will exercise in going forward.
But let me disturb you further lest you think that the bishop is just losing his marbles and being pessimistic. Last week after I had long completed this sermon, I received an article in one of my emails which tells an interesting story. In it the author points to three trends related to Denominations, Worship Centres and Christians.
- Denominations. It took institutional Christianity 1900 years to get to 1,600 denominations worldwide, by 2000, the number stood at 34,200, and by the year 2100, there will be over 240,000.
- Worship Centers. In 1900 there were 400,000 worship centers worldwide, by 2000, about 3.5 million, and by 2000, over 66 million.
- Christians. Here’s where the rub begins. 600 million Christians in 1900, 2 billion in 2000, and 4.3 billion by 2100. Growing solidly, but currently at about half the rate of denominations and worship centers.
Got it? See the problem?
If trends hold – and there’s no reason to think they won’t since they’ve been moving along at the current pace for decades – we are going to see catastrophic drops in the sizes of both denominations and worship centers (in terms of membership).
Worst case scenario: by 2100 we are looking at an average denomination of just under 18,000 and an average worship center size of under 70.
Denominations? Unsustainable. Dead within the next 100 years. Hard to see a way around it.
Worship Centers? Unsustainable in their current, church-centric form. But… if they can find ways to become more lean, vision-driven, creative, and experimental, they may find a way … that will deliver them into a new way of being Church.
So if you are a leader of a congregation, you have a choice…
What’s it going to be?
(Faith X News 6.24 The Religion Singularity: What Is It? And Why Should You Care?)
The Core Business of Ministry
We are accustomed to financial and commercial organizations talking about their core business, and we also must be clear as ordained persons and as Church in the midst of all the changes which confront us what is the core business of Ministry.
There is an article written some years ago by a female minister of the Methodist tradition, Kathleen Brown, to whom I like to refer from time to time as she captures succinctly what I would consider some of the essentials of ministry which I would leave with you as you prepare to undertake this ministry whether as priest or deacon. She identifies what she calls certain qualities and skills. She turns first of all to the matter of leadership, and identifies the ordained as the primary leaders of worship within the life of the church.
In laying a foundation for understanding the role of the leader of worship she makes the following observation:
Since our liturgies of worship are rites that celebrate the larger liturgy of life, these people – fully engaged in life, in the world – lead not just with text and rubrics but with all who they are.
In other words, it is not enough to know how to go through the liturgy and to do that well. Rather, the personality of the leader, who the person is, comes into play. Therefore, regardless of the level of excellence with which one may be able to conduct the liturgy, and however good a preacher one may be, who one is as a person and what one brings to the task cannot be left out of the equation. So the author goes on to say, “the leader of worship must lead with skill, example, faith, and pastoral heart”. Let me invite you to explore each of these further.
The pastor as leader must be able to remind the gathered members of the community of faith of their common mission, monitor their progress, celebrate success, inspire people to do their best, and facilitate collaboration among them. So the leader within the community of faith must be skilled in fostering community, feeding the hungry, sharing stories, comforting those who are sad and taking care of those who are sick. Notwithstanding one’s age, by virtue of being a minister, one will over time have to grow and develop the requisite skills to be a faithful leader of all ages in the community, through the divine assistance.
This is another way of expressing the notion of being and setting examples for the faithful. Her treatment of this issue is so profound that I dare not try to paraphrase what she has to say.
“Authenticity is the integration of the private and the public, the inside and the outside, the spiritual journey and the human journey. Authenticity for a leader of prayer means that the Spirit permeates the whole of his or her being. Authenticity means that the word that the leader of prayer proclaims and preaches has entered his or her own soul and taken root there. Authenticity means a life of prayer and openness to the experience of God. The deeper a minister’s own spiritual life, the more convincing and effective his or her witness and ministry will be. By being open to the movement of the Spirit in his or her own life, the leader of prayer can enable the Spirit in turn to transform the community. The ministry of presiding involves both the faith and the humanity of the minister – not a faith that is somehow added on to everyday life but a faith that is integrated into the whole of the minister’s life. …Through the leader of liturgy, the word of God is given a human voice, and the good news of the Gospel is given human expression.”
Leaders of worship can give voice to the joy, hope, grief, and love of the community because they have felt joy, hope, grief, and love in their own lives. Leaders of liturgy can give voice to the community’s need and longing for God if they are in touch with the need and longing for God that lies deep in their own hearts.
In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, that great writer on Christian Spirituality argues from a similar perspective and says that ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and make that recognition the starting point of their service. He expresses it this way:
… the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service. Whether he tries to enter into a dislocated world, relate to a convulsive generation, or speak to a dying man, his service will not be received as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks.
We turn then to the next characteristic which is faith. Kathleen Brown proposes that leaders of worship must lead with faith. The faith of a leader of prayer must come from the inside and radiate outward. Leadership of prayer must be rooted in the minister’s own relationship with God and willingness to be a channel for the work of the Spirit. To claim the moral authority to lead the community in worship, ministers must live what they pray, and practice what they preach. They must be living examples of what they call the community to be.
The transparency of a minister’s own life of faith is one of his/her gifts to the community, an intimate sharing of his or her own relationship with God. The community is inspired, nourished, and led by that sharing. Leaders of liturgy must be attentive to their own spiritual lives not only for personal reasons but also for the sake of the community, because the Spirit works not only within but also through. The ministry of leading a community in worship calls for a spirituality that is humble, prayerful, transparent, and open to the movement of the Spirit.
Possessing a Pastoral Spirit
The pastoral spirit is not first and foremost about being able to greet all the members of the church and being with them in their joys and in their sorrows. It is first and foremost about prayerfulness. So Kathleen Brown observes that the leader of liturgy must be present to the mystery of God working in his or her own life, and this presence requires a prayerful spirit and a practice of prayerfulness. Prayerfulness must be a way of life. This then becomes as it were a precondition for a pastoral heart. A pastoral heart is defined as “one which loves the people entrusted to it”.
A pastoral heart is one which is in tune with the needs of the life of the people one is seeking to lead. It requires attention to nurturing needs and the depth, sensitivity and richness of relationships within the community of faith. One of the signs of pastoral burnout is the loss of a sense of love for the people and the relationship degenerates into one of constant criticism and sermons become occasions for criticizing, griping and telling off the people of God. Alongside this goes a growing sense of negativity and failure within the clergy himself/herself. When this happens it is time to seek help or to move on.
Renewal and Hope
Returning to the text, we note that it speaks to the notion of not losing heart. It appears to me that many of us clergy, if we are not losing heart, we are losing nerve with the manifestations of decline in membership, finances, the decline in the cohort of young people, etc., and the way forward seems to be that of copying what the newer churches that are growing in number are doing. The first attraction seems to be to liven up the service with music and “Praise and Worship”.
Olando, Marjorie, Dwayne and Natalie, this is no doubt a moment of great anticipation and excitement for you but, there will come those days when having sought to fulfill in faithfulness the duties which I have outlined, you wonder what has become of these joyful feelings, and you begin to feel alone.
In the Book of 1 Kings 19: 9-18, there is the account of Elijah on the retreat running scared from Jezebel and wallowing in self-pity and isolation. That the experience takes place in the wilderness is significant for the symbolic role which the wilderness has characterized in the religious pilgrimage of the people of God through the ages. He sees no way forward and is convinced that he is the only faithful servant of the Lord who is left. There, in the wilderness in Horeb, he has an encounter with God which changes his perception of reality and the direction of his ministry in going forward. What I find interesting is the mode within which he encounters God, not in earthquake, fire, or whirlwind, but in silence. I believe that the direction in which many of us are looking in discerning the way forward, as we are caught in the wilderness experience of our ministry, is in the direction of those things that can best be symbolized as the earthquake, wind, and fire, whereas God may be inviting us to an experience in the silence, a deafening silence. And maybe, just maybe, the nurturing of your spiritual life and a discipline of prayer and study in those moments, may become for you that transforming silence, when you encounter God afresh, the ministry to which he is directing you in going forward, even as God assures each of you that you are not alone, but that there are “thousands whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
May God bless each of you as you venture forth on this new phase of your Christian pilgrimage as an ordained person. AMEN.