Second Sunday in Lent

Sermon in Dialogue with Donna Joy and Lynda Wolfe
A Reflection on ‘Collaboration: Uniting our Gifts in Ministry’

Last week we reflected on the baptism of Jesus, who was baptized so that through our baptism we could become intimately connected to him. Through our baptism we are called by Jesus, welcomed into the household of God, and commissioned to lifelong growth in faith and service. Each week as we are fed and nurtured at the table of God’s Word and Eucharist we are equipped/empowered to follow Jesus and serve him in whatever unique ways we are called to serve.

And today, specifically, we are reminded that we are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Following Jesus involves risk. His first disciples, by following Jesus, were taking risks; serious risks. Following someone who was in any way perceived to be the long awaited Messiah automatically put that leader and anyone associated with him at risk with the authorities. The message in this morning’s reading from Mark is not suggesting that there might be danger ahead; it is making the point that Jesus must, and will, walk directly into it, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.

He is inviting his followers to come and lose whatever they are called to lose, right alongside him. If they have to lose their lives, then so be it. If they have to lose their positions in community, then so be it. If they have to lose their dreams of the way they thought things were going to be, then so be it.

And this sacrifice that Jesus, himself, is predicting must happen, because only with his death will the powers of the world be identified as ridiculous; only then will the perceived power of status, wealth, position, be recognized as shallow and fleeting. Only with the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb can we recognize that God leads us into new life – new possibilities – out of the ashes of death and disappointment.

The Anglican church today, within this current context in the western world needs to hear this message. With the death of Christendom the church continues to live with the realty of decline. This decline is in the process of pushing us to let go of a church that has been structured in a particular way; this decline is pushing us to let go of a church that just automatically exists, and embrace a renewed understanding of church. This renewed understanding moves us away from a model that is particularly priestly centered, and toward a model that recognizes and holds accountable the ministry of all the baptized.

Church decline is, in fact, creating new possibilities – new opportunities – for spiritual growth and greater overall vibrancy. I believe that Jesus, at this moment in time, is calling us to follow him; calling us to let go of our commitment to a church that has previously been structured in a particular way; calling us to embrace the opportunities that this decline is opening up.

St. Peter’s made a decision a year ago to acknowledge in a new way the reality of decline; to take the risk of following Jesus within the context of a more suitable collaborative structure. Last fall we offered an opportunity to engage in a book study for the purpose of better understanding this model of ministry/leadership. Lynda Wolfe attended this book study and we have invited her today to share some of the things she learned and discovered through that experience.

Lynda, as one who attended the book study last fall, and at the same time observed this model getting off the ground during the past year, how might you describe your understanding of collaborative ministry?

Lynda: Collaborative ministry involves each of us identifying our own gifts and recognizing the gifts of others. We then work together with this combination of gifts to achieve God’s mission for our parish, community and the world. Achieving God’s mission for the world is both a responsibility and privilege for everyone who has been baptized into the church. Failure to use collaborative ministry results in the mere survival of the church instead of the parish developing to its full potential. Collaborative ministry is not an easy or tidy process but necessary if we are to live out our witness and common baptism.

How might you define the goal of collaborative ministry?

Lynda: Collaborative Ministry is tied to concepts of worship, giftedness, ministry and mission. The word, “ministry” comes from a Latin word meaning “least” or “small” as opposed to “magister” which means great. This meaning of ministry fits with Jesus self-identification of the one who came not be served but to serve. Therefore, “ministry” means “to serve”. In collaborative ministry we serve together as a community, joining our gifts to fulfill God’s purpose in the world. In the process of developing collaborative ministry, we come to realize that we are all united in the body of Christ.

This model is intimately connected to our baptismal responsibilities. What is your understanding of collaborative ministry and baptism?

Lynda: Collaborative ministry built on the idea of a universal call to ministry –or service- through baptism. Through this sacrament of baptism, all disciples are called to participate in the ongoing work of Christ. Ministry the responsibility and privilege for all who are baptized into the church. The Holy Spirit pours out a variety of gifts upon the baptized so that we can each assume different ministries. Collaborative ministry requires that we acknowledge and explore our own gifts, recognize the gifts of others and work together with others with whom we have this shared baptism. All ministries within the body of Christ at St. Peter’s are understood to be interdependent. Each ministry must be acknowledged, explored and put to use along with the gifts of others.

During our book study, we spent some time reflecting on the Trinity. Can you say something about the connection between the working of the Trinity and a collaborative model for ministry?

Lynda: Sofield and Juliano, the authors of the text we used in our study, said that collaborative ministry a theological concept that is based on the concept of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as the Trinity. In our study, we reflected on the nature of the Trinity using Andrew Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity which is printed on the cover of this morning’s bulletin. We were led to understand God as the great collaborator, creating the universe and all that is in it in a unity of spirit with Christ and the Holy Spirit. As God collaborated in the creation of the universe, so God expects us to collaborate and work together in serving Christ’s purpose in the world.

Finally, Lynda, based on this book study, what is your understanding of the concept of leadership in this model of collaborative ministry at St. Peter’s?

Lynda: Collaborative ministry is a shared ministry involving all members of the parish. However, there is a need for leadership. The role of the leader is different from that of a leader in other models of ministry. It is reflective of role of Christ and his disciples. Christ sent his disciples out before they were fully prepared. Upon their return, He led them through a process of reflection and learning. Following this example, the leader in collaborative ministry does not require perfection from him/her or others. The leader instills a vision of the ministry and mission of the parish that leads to reflection and growth in this ministry. The qualities of a leader are: the ability to create a climate of safety to encourage interaction; the ability to keep the group on task and directed to the agreed purpose; the ability to intervene when group dynamics intervene with achievement of goal and the ability to lead in process of evaluation. The benefit of having a leader who is ordained is that an ordained leader can preside at sacraments. This person also has a rich theological education that can be shared with others. Finally, having an ordained leader helps to preserves the theological integrity of the parish.

So, this is the model that we believe St. Peter’s is called to live into. It is not yet, not will it ever be, perfect; but it is a work in progress, and I can say with confidence that it is a good work in progress. Jesus says, “…take up your cross and follow me.” His death on the cross and rising to new life offers a constant reminder that death and disappointment is never the final word; it offers a constant reminder that death is necessary for the rising of new possibilities. The death of Christendom is offering this for us. Out of this experience of disappointment and decline new possibilities are coming to life, and these insights that Lynda has shared allow us to catch a glimpse of what this may look like.

At the end of the day, as we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, our primary goal is to become a healing presence within the life of the community of disciples, and beyond – in our communities, locally and globally. The way in which we structure ourselves is intended to support and enhance the ways in which we are called to become church in a world that so desperately needs this loving, healing presence.