9. Mutual Ministry

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2 Responses to 9. Mutual Ministry

  1. What’s in a name? Mutual Ministry, Shared Ministry, Total Ministry, Baptismal Ministry….. It is a priesthood of all believers, not a parish with “just” a priest and not necessarily “without” a priest. It’s a reconfiguration – in essence a “re-membering” of our Christian roots.

    For the Episcopal Church, the impetus for this “re-viewing” of the structure of Christian community and how it functions began in the 1960s and has been gaining momentum since that time. Bishop Ely of the Diocese of Vermont noted that we are encouraged to look at different models when we’re facing challenges caused by either financial, human resources, building issues, etc. In other words, money problems tend to be the instigator, a sentiment similarly expressed by Rt. Rev. Bruce Caldwell of the Diocese of Wyoming. He points out that, “at the beginning it almost always starts out of financial need, but one quickly discovers that it really isn’t about the money.” When that happens, the question isn’t how to survive as a parish or find stability. The real question is how to be a vital force living the Gospel out in the world.

    Mutual Ministry takes the hierarchal structure apart and rearranges it so that it reflects shared leadership. The priest is no longer at the hub of the wheel and all of the congregation’s members are spokes that support the mission of the church. On a personal note, my spouse is an obsessed bike rider and he pays close attention to ensuring that all of the spokes are connected and working in unison – when they aren’t – it damages the rim. The Holy Spirit is at the center of the wheel. Extending the metaphor further, might the rim be the threshold between church and world? How can we use our ministry gifts as we ride out into the world, if the wheel is in malfunctioning?

    The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian community in response to their divisions, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose” (1st Cor. 3:7) He also adds, “For we are God’s servants, working together.” (v.8a) Working together as the body of Christ is the goal as far as Paul was concerned. He continued in 1st Corinthians speaking of spiritual gifts, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (12:12).

    The common denominator in mutual ministry is “ONE” – all of the members working in unity for the common purpose of engaging as partners in God’s mission in the world. The Spirit has given all baptized persons, gifts unique to each individual, so that the sum total can be a transforming, healing presence – witnessing to God’s grace.

    That all sounds fine and good but there has to be a starting point, yes?!! That would be where ministry development comes in. Gifts need to be identified, training must be available for skills development, and ongoing support must be in place. There is an array of models to choose from, which is awesome if you’re like me, embracing the adage, “variety is the spice of life!” It can also be somewhat overwhelming.

    Fortunately, there are “roadmaps” and guidelines to help parishes find their way through the maze. There are companions who can help get those bike wheels tuned up for the trek.

    In my home parish, our former rector Rev. Cn. Thad Bennett used to hold up the model, “team plus one” from the Toyota corporation. It worked for us. St. Mary’s in the Mountains in Wilmington, VT is still on the path of discovery as a parish in transition. There have been conversations of Baptismal ministry, Covenant Group explorations, discernment of gifts, commissioning of various ministries; and it will be just fine wherever our journey leads us. I can also state confidently, that it has tasted the joys of shared leadership and empowering the members sufficiently that returning to an old hierarchal priest centric model won’t be an option. Ride on!

  2. Susan Hill says:

    As part of my mutual ministry immersion experience, I was able to go to Wyoming for the Wyoming Weekend. While I was there, I had the opportunity to experience the wild and wonderful life Wyoming offers. All the cowboy movies I have watched as a child came to life in the rolling prairies and sagebrush. At the airport I had my picture taken with a life size replica of a buffalo. The people whom I met are a hearty group and everyone wears cowboy boots. I was able to go shopping one afternoon and got to see several stores that specialize in cowboy boots. One petite deacon I met told me she has a complete collection of cowboy boots that compliment the wardrobe which she wears at the altar. I am sure her cowboy boots are similar to my collection of flip flops, which I wear at the altar.
    Also while I was in Wyoming, I had the opportunity to meet the Rt. Rev. Bruce Coldwell. He is a very tall man; I would say he is several inches over six feet. He not only wore cowboy boots but also a cowboy hat with his purple bishop garb. Later, at the national convention in Anaheim, California, I heard him speak to the Executive Council about Mutual Ministry. Not long after that Bishop Coldwell retired. Several of the people I had met while at the Wyoming Weekend became concerned about the future of Mutual Ministry in the diocese of Wyoming. Though a couple of people did lose their jobs, it seems that the new Bishop does understand the concept and is continuing in the mutual ministry format.
    For the past ten years I have attended a mission church on Tybee Island. When I was first introduced to mutual ministry in a class at EDS, our mission church had a vicar and a deacon. One of the ministry team was a wimp and the other was a tyrant. The tyrant ruled everything with an iron fist. We could not do anything without permission, and probably not even then. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, both the vicar and the deacon had to leave us suddenly and with little notice. Because we had been bullied for so long, it was tricky and we were not always sure, but we began to step up and take on the responsibilities to keep things going. It was not always easy and often we had to solve problems as they cropped up. On the up side of this is that it made us very self-sufficient. At that point the only thing we needed a priest for was Communion. After the two left and before we got someone new, we had two interims. Both were retired from full-time ministry, which worked well because neither was very interested in taking on a lot of responsibility. Though it was never defined as such, out of necessity, our mission congregation had developed a mutual ministry mentality of “get ‘er done.” Last August the Bishop sent us a permanent vicar. Since August I have watched as she has systematically taken every job that was being done by the laity and put it onto her. Watching all of this has been an interesting experience as I develop in my formation. I worry about when she goes and what will happen, not to mention what she is doing to herself.
    I believe in the concept of mutual ministry. I believe that people need to have ownership, no matter what the group. Deep ownership gives people a sense of responsibility and makes them accountable for the outcome. If everyone has ownership, then no one can say that it is someone else’s job. We know from experience that top down leadership is not very self-sustaining. I am thankful I have been introduced to mutual ministry. I am hopeful that I will be able to implement the concept, not only in a church setting but also in every group that I am involved with. God has given all of us gifts. It seems that when these gifts are combined and used for the good of the cause, this is grace (underserved favor) from God.

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