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Letter from October - November 2013

posted 2 Dec 2013, 09:06 by St. Thomas' Church Aboyne   [ updated 2 Dec 2013, 09:08 ]

From the interim priest-in-charge Rev’d Lisa Eunson
Often we assume there is only one basic formula for church: one church, one priest. The priest directs all of the ‘church’ work: worship, visiting, community engagement, etc. And yet is that really the living church that God needs?

You may already know that the word ‘church’ comes from the Greek ‘ecclesia’ which means ‘the gathered.’ The word ‘liturgy’ means ‘work of the people.’ In the early generations of Christian practice, people would gather in homes to pray, read letters, share a meal, remember Jesus. Women often led these house ‘services.’ Patterns of ministry began to emerge, and our earliest records identify various roles and titles for different activities and responsibilities, many focused on care of those in need.

After the third century, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of his Empire, the roles and rituals became more set into an imperial hierarchy, and moved the work of the church away from those gathered people. Even the buildings reflected this structure. All of that is a legitimate part of our history and tradition, and has given us forms of worship and architecture that are quite wonderful. They point to the awe and mystery of God, just as the house church tradition reflects the accessibility of God’s compassionate mercy, of God with us.

In many parts of the world we are moving, often by necessity, into new models of church, living models that adapt to local ministry needs; models that in fact resonate with those early churches. And we still have structures, and roles. Sometimes we share tasks, but that does not mean we all fill the same roles. For example, many of you are more than capable of leading worship, but not everybody is called to be a priest. So what’s the difference? Priesthood is an ordained, sacramental role; ordination itself only occurs after years of training and testing that vocation by both institution and community. One way to think about the fundamental priestly identity is reconciliation: through the sacraments of confession and absolution, communion, and blessing, a priest seeks to bring people back to wholeness: with God, with each other, with their own souls. This happens through worship, it happens on the High Street. It is not a task; it is a primary function of the role, the vocation, lived out in all of the activities of ministry and life.

In our Episcopal tradition, the priest has the authority, granted through the institution and community he or she serves, to perform sacramental tasks. Consecrating the elements for Holy Communion is one of those. [See the article elsewhere in The Tattler about ‘The Yellow Books’ and what we do when a priest (or Bishop) is not part of the gathered on a Sunday when we want to share communion together.]
In a living church, we each have a role, and we share the tasks, the work of being church. We can reclaim church as the gathered people whose work is to love God and each other through worship and care. We each bring our own skills and experiences, and our own unique style. Gathered around communion, respecting and appreciating each other and our differences may well grow our souls as much as anything else we do.

In our time together over the coming months, I hope we can engage in some mutual discernment of everyone’s gifts, skills, talents. Who is called to visit the sick? Who lights up when they lead prayer? Who loves to cook, or garden, or teach children, or …. ? What do you see in each other? What are the many ways we can serve the God who loves us, and how is God nudging you right now?

Personally, I can’t wait to find out!