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Ministry in the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is committed to inspiring every person, both lay and ordained, to grow spiritually and to equipping our leaders to lead well. It is the responsibility of the Commission on Ministry to assist the Bishop of the diocese “in enlisting and selecting persons” for ordained ministry. That part of the commission’s work is commonly understood. But the Commission is also charged with assisting in developing, training, and affirming lay ministries. We feel that this important work begins with a careful exploration and understanding of our common calling to the Ministry of the Baptised. You will find resources for exploring a call to ministry, both lay and ordained, in these pages.

The Ministry of the Baptised

In the waters of baptism, we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Holy Baptism, which can be performed through pouring of water or immersion in it, marks a formal entrance to the congregation and wider Church; the candidates for the sacrament make a series of vows, including an affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, and are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are marked as Christ’s own forever, having “clothed [themselves] with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

The baptismal covenant, found on p. 304-5 of The Book of Common Prayer (1979), is a small catechism for use during the rite of initiation into the Church. Armentrout and Slocum, in their An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, note that the baptismal covenant “is widely regarded as the normative statement of what it means to follow Christ” (p. 37); in these questions and answers, the congregation expresses the ways each of the faithful will live their faith both inside and outside the church walls. The first four questions are patterned on the Apostles’ Creed, with the liturgy’s celebrant asking the people about their beliefs in each of the members of the Trinity, along with a concise understanding of their natures. Following these questions, the covenant includes five questions regarding how we, as Christians, are called to live out our faith: with firm commitment and a reliance on God’s help. 

The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Father?

People: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People: I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People: I will, with God’s help.

Discerning God’s Call to a Specific Baptismal Ministry

Baptismal ministry can take many forms.  Lay people, along with bishops, priests, and deacons, are ministers of the Church. It is the vital ministry of all lay persons “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 855.

The call of a lay person does not necessarily take place within the walls of the Church. It can involve an immediate response to a crisis or other event. It can be lived out over many years, as with a career. While some lay people find their vocation through their work. Others find their calling in other activities such as coaching, gardening, bringing food to a family in crisis, or preparing bags of toiletries for homeless folk. It can involve a life-long relationship such as marriage or parenthood. There are those among us who have artistic or musical abilities that can bring beauty, healing, and richness to the communities to which they belong. Or it can involve a life-long relationship such as marriage or parenthood.

Lay ministries outside the church doors often are begun as an effort to address an identified need of the surrounding community. These kinds of outreach and social justice programs can often be organic in the sense that they grow naturally as the need and the ability to meet the need grows. We have seen a lot of this in the dedication of others in making that others did not go without food, clothing and shelter when disaster strikes. 

When a lay ministry requires financial support from the public to be sustainable, the form of the lay ministry can sometimes take the form of a tax-exempt organization under Section 501©(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This provision of the law permits tax deductible donations by donors to a corporation that is organized and operated for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or other tax-exempt purposes. For tips on setting up a tax-exempt organization, see the website for the Public Counsel at: Community Development Project Resources for Forming a Tax-Exempt California Nonprofit Corporation – Public Counsel

Some lay ministries do take place within the four walls of a church such as acolyte, administrator, alter guild, building and grounds/caretaker (sexton). camp counselor/staff, catechesis, children’s ministry coordinator, communications coordinator, communion bread baker, choir member, community engagement coordinator, counter, discerner/listener, editor, environmental minister/green team, eucharistic minister, evangelist, faith formation coordinator, greeter. healing minister, hospitality coordinator, journalist, liturgist, mail ministry, musician, parish nurse, pastoral care minister/coordinator, prayer minister, spiritual director, stewardship coordinator, Sunday School teachers, treasurer, usher, vestry member, and youth group leader. Learning how to perform these ministries can often take place within the local congregation but some of them will require specialized training or coursework. 

Finally, both lay and ordained leaders are called to serve in various diocesan ministries like Multicultural Ministries, LBGTQ Ministries, Social Justice Ministries, Outreach Ministries, the Commission on Ministry, and the Standing Committee. Other ministries involve service to the broader community, such as promoting peace and justice, working toward racial reconciliation, visiting prisoners, visiting the sick or the homebound, assisting the needy, or being a health care provider.

Discerning Your Gifts

If you are considering how to find or deepen a vocation, consider these questions:

  • What activities in your life do you consider life-giving?
  • What activities make you feel closer to humankind? To God?
  • Where do your gifts meet the world’s needs?

If you are unsure on how to begin, you might consider asking your congregation to form a Clearness Committee. A clearness committee meets with a person who is unclear on how to proceed in a keenly felt concern or dilemma, hoping that it can help this person to reach clarity. A clearness committee meets with a person who is unclear on how to proceed in a keenly felt concern or dilemma, hoping that it can help this person to reach clarity. See Clearness-Committees-and-Their-Use-in-Personal-Discernment-FVFM_0[39565].pdf Clearness-Committees-and-Their-Use-in-Personal-Discernment-FVFM_0[39565].pdf

Discovering one’s gifts and discerning how best to share them is a process that engages our best efforts every day. Whether the ministry you seek to discern is ultimately lay or ordained, the starting point for discernment remains the same. Anyone desiring supportive guidance in discernment of a call to ministry might consider reading one or more of the following recommended books on discernment.  In addition, should you desire additional supportive guidance in this discernment process you might approach lay and ordained leaders in your congregation with your questions about a possible call to a specific baptismal ministry.

Many people already have ministries that we are living out. They simply need a new awareness of their faith-centered intentions. But if you still feel there is something more that you desire to do as part of your baptismal ministry and you do not see an existing role that fits you, create one!  

More is Coming!

The Diocese of Los Angeles is in the process of developing more resources for discernment of gifts and call to ministry. We anticipate this will include new programs for the training, development and affirming of both lay and ordained ministry. So please stay tuned for future announcements as these resources and programs become available. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please contact one of the following members of the Commission on Ministry.

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