A few nights ago, I was on (another) Zoom call with a small group of parishioners that is working to plan the next parish council meeting, which is scheduled for August 22, 2020. (Have you RSVPed yet? If not, you can do so here!) During the course of the conversation, one of the parishioners asked, quite plainly, what the hope for the parish council is in the bigger picture of Church of the Epiphany. It was a question about what we hope to achieve by creating a structure for ministry that is more dispersed than perhaps it has been in the past.
In the early days of the church, before the church had specific orders into which people were ordained, the church was comprised of disconnected communities of faith that were actively working out what it meant to follow in the way of Jesus. By the time Paul entered onto the scene, the church was spreading throughout Judea and into the Gentile lands. Paul and Barnabas worked particularly among the Gentiles in sharing the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. The communities being formed did not have the benefit of rapid communication – much less being able to post something to a virtual bulletin board that everyone could access and read! Instead, the communities had to figure out how to live out the gospel the best they could, and when a significant issue or question arose in the life of the church, it was necessary to host a council in order to come to a clarified decision for the life of the whole.
The first of these councils is called the Council of Jerusalem. It was conducted around 50 C.E., and it included the who’s who of the early church – Peter, James the brother of Jesus, Paul, and Barnabas. At this council, the church had to wrestle with a significant question: what is required of new gentile believers? Is there a need for circumcision and upholding the whole of the Torah? Around this question the Council of Jerusalem was convened in order to discern the way forward for the church, and it was not without debate that the council was able to come to a conclusion about the future direction of the church. (If you would like to read more about the Council of Jerusalem, you can open your Bible to Acts 15!)
The councils of the church have continued to be how the church makes decisions for itself. OF course, the largest of our councils in The Episcopal Church is General Convention, which is held once every three years. Into this list, we can add diocesan convention and our annual parish meeting. And while the more formal councils are central to how we create pathways forward for our church, they are not how we actively discern the invitations of the spirit in between these more formal meetings. Instead, we have to supplement these meetings with other conversations in and around the parish. It is necessary for us to enter into regular conversations with each other and with God to know where God is calling us forward in mission and ministry.
One of the ways that we are attempting to enter into active discernment of God’s call for our parish is through the Parish Council. It is the place in which each one of us is able to have a place at the table as we discern how God is calling us into mission and ministry in this time and in this place. It is how each one of us is able to take an active role in listening for God’s prompting as we seek to shared the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. As a council of councils, we enter into the shared work of taking faithful steps in our life of faith, and we are able to practice the ministries into which we have been invited by the sighs of the Holy Spirit that are always too deep for words.
The hope and the prayer for the Parish Council is that we are all formed into the fullness of the stature of Christ by practicing ministry shoulder to shoulder. The hope is that, through our shared practice of ministry, we will learn from those moments in which we miss the mark and from those moments that land right in the center. IT is a hope that we will learn and grow in faith precisely because we are committed to practicing ministry alongside each other. The hope is that all of us grow as disciples as we encounter each other in faithful conversations that lead us into faithful action.
The Christian faith has always been one that is concerned with how each individual member of the body is able to be part of the whole. It has always been a tradition that focused on the ways that we live out our faith in ways that help us to find meaning and to share the love of God in and through our lives. It is a faith that does not allow us to remain on the sidelines if we want to experience the full joy of God’s love. Instead, it is a faith that demands that we get into the center of the action.
How are you being called into ministry in our parish? Might you be invited to join the Parish Council in listening to the sighs of the Holy Spirit as we move forward in mission and ministry?
I pray that you will join us. I cannot wait to see how having your voice at the table will help us hear the Holy a little more clearly.