Over the last several weeks, the Invite Council has encouraged our whole parish to find at least one ministry in the parish to make a commitment of time and talent through Belong Engage Believe. The ministries listed on the page are the ministries that have been part of our parish for a time. Because we are in a pandemic, the Invite Council created the resource using online technology so everyone could participate – whether you attend in-worship or you continue to worship from home online. After three weeks of Belong Engage Believe, we have had exactly 9 people make a pledge of time and talent to at least one ministry. The response has been and is…paltry, and it begs the question: what do we do with ministries that do not have the support of a group of lay people? Would it be wise for the staff of the parish to try to answer that by finding the volunteers to do the ministry even though those volunteers would not have a passion for the ministry to begin with? After all, the volunteers wouldn’t have signed up for the ministry but would have been convinced of doing the work for some period of time. It seems that it is time for us to think about what it looks like for us to allow some ministries to drift off into the sunset and to let go of those ministries without a core group of parishioners engaged in the work as their vocation within the parish.
Roughly 15 months ago, our church, the whole of our church, had to stop doing what it had always done. The age old adage of “we’ve never done it that way’ ceased to matter because the conditions around us changed. The context in which ministry was happening shifted so drastically that we did not have a choice but to do ministry in a COMPLETELY different and new way. Now, we still find ourselves in a pandemic, and while things are getting better, we are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 will be part of the new landscape for our church and for our parish. The one thing that we might yearn for – a return to “normal” – might also be the very thing that should be avoided at all cost. It seems that we now have an opportunity to begin creating new ministry that invites us deeper into ministry and into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
For the time being, it seems that we still have an opportunity to shift ministry in our parish to be more sustainable and to be a place in which every baptized member of the church is able to enter into her or his vocation – the way that each one of us is invited to live out the Gospel in our lives and the way that we each enter into ministry. It cannot be to simply do things as they have always been done nor can it be that we simply wait for things to return to normal. Our whole church is in a place in which innovation is going to be what helps us be faithful in our ministry. We are in a time in which we are able to dream afresh the ways that we are able to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Tempe, AZ. We are in a time in which we can take the bold and audacious move of hitting CTRL-ALT-A-DELETE. We are in a time in which a nearly blank canvas is in front of us and inviting us to create new works of art through our commitment to the Gospel.
The thought of doing that is scary because then we wonder what our parish would look like and if it would continue to be a vital and vibrant parish in Tempe, but I wonder if it is not the right step for us to find renewed vigor and passion in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A living church is one in which every member of the parish is able to find her or his vocation and live that out through a ministry of the church. A living church is one in which the members of the church know themselves to be a minister of the Gospel by virtue of Holy Baptism. A living church is one in which every member of the body knows that the ministry of the church happens because of the work that each member does as part of that ministry.
The question I have posed is a dangerous question, and it is one that we might not want to confront in this time. But, it seems that the only way forward to becoming a living church is lean into this space of letting go of ministries that do not have a committed group of lay people supporting it. By letting go of certain ministries, we are able to better focus our energy as a parish, and we are better able to invite others into the ministries we do support. The focus that comes with limiting the number of ministries of our parish helps us in our faithfulness precisely because we keep those things for which our parish is particularly gifted. Though we may not be doing as many ministries, we would certainly be doing ministry in a more faithful and intentional way. It offers us the opportunity to “let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’.” (Matthew 5:37 NRSV)