Wednesday 5th August 2020 Basis of Union 21
Ephesians 4: 11-13
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
Some are called to the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. After approved preparation and training, they may be called to be Ministers of local churches, or missionaries overseas, or to some special and approved ministry, and are then ordained and inducted to their office…They are commissioned to conduct public worship, to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments, to exercise pastoral care and oversight, and to give leadership to the church in its mission to the world. Their service may be stipendiary or non-stipendiary, and in the latter case their service is given within the area of a synod and in a context it has approved. (21)
Fifteen years of my ministry have been at Westminster College, and this combination of Paul’s teaching and these invitations from the Basis have seldom been far from me, or, I suspect, from any of us devoted to the URC’s education, training and formation for ministry. The ways in which we deliver and plan it have changed dramatically (within a year of arriving at Westminster I was at the General Assembly that withdrew ministerial training from many ecumenical partnerships to focus upon Cambridge, Manchester and the Scottish College). The expectations, aspirations, demands and deployment of ministry remain in constant flux across our Synods. Congregations wrestle with many histories and much memory of previous ministries that often jar against what, now, is either possible or even useful. I have always thanked God that the URC has consistently devoted tremendous resources to equipping and sustaining ordained ministry.
None of this, I believe, denies the rightful wonder and significance of everyone who wants to follow Jesus. None of this should let us trip ourselves up by imagining that the overwhelming majority of Christians who are not ordained to these ministries are in any way lesser Christians of less significance before God. Paul’s ultimate focus in Ephesians is not the self-aggrandizement of a holy and select guild, but the equipping of every believer for their own unique ministries and the growing up of the whole Church to the spiritual and missionary maturity Christ teaches and yearns for in us all. Yes, a thousand times, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. But Paul, as our Basis, is equally clear that God calls some, and wants some, prepared to be God’s agents in this equipping and nurturing. We have always, and must continue, to test and refine how we do such calling and preparing in response to the leading of the Spirit. New circumstances and changing contexts demand our most passionate dreaming and our most energetic reinvention again and again and again. I do not know what future Ministry of Word and Sacraments will be for the URC. But neither do I believe that we have no further need of it, or that God has ceased to call people into it.
Thank you, dear God,
for the call of the Spirit
in the name of your Son.
Thank you for all who minister amongst us
and throughout our communities and institutions.
Thank you for those who have helped us to follow you.
Bless them this day.
Bless us as we, too,
discover your claim and calling
in our lives today.