Ministry in the Episcopal Church
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. Through this rite we are reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Living into a baptized life is a lifelong commitment to resisting all that separates us and all creation from the love of God, and promising to join Jesus in giving, forgiving, teaching, and healing in his name.
“The ministers of the Church are laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” (Page 855, The Book of Common Prayer)
All baptized persons are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bless those we meet by practicing generosity, forgiveness, and compassion, and by proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ through our words and actions. Each of the ministries and vocations of the church listed below represents a specific way of living out the Baptismal Covenant.
A full understanding of the order to which a person is called occurs over time as the discerning individual moves through the process of ministry assessment. The spiritual journey is one of learning, maturing, and challenge; openness to the work of the Holy Spirit is of ultimate importance. It is also important to remember that each person’s process is unique, even though all go through certain steps along the way.
The Ministry of the Laity
“The ministry of lay persons is 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, work, and governance of the Church” (Page 855, The Book of Common Prayer).
Generally, the word “laity” refers to the people of the church who have been baptized but not ordained. They are also known as lay ministers. The term “laity” is derived from the Greek word meaning “people”. There are many ways for the laity to live out their baptismal covenant, some of which take place inside the church walls but many of which do not. Unfortunately, some view the ordained as the only “real” ministers of the church and regard laity as inferior to clergy. The increasing appreciation for lay ministry in recent years has accompanied a renewed emphasis on the significance of baptismal ministry. This has led to a growing understanding that the various ministries of the church are meant to support and uphold one another, to complement each other, and not to be mutually exclusive.
For more information about lay ministry in the Church, click here.
The Ministry of Deacons
Episcopal deacons are the bridge leaders of the church. They follow Jesus’s way of love in the world and bring the needs of the hurt and marginalized to the church. In the secular realm they serve all people, regardless of faith, but especially those who may be missed, neglected, or feared by the majority. In the sacred realm they proclaim Jesus’s message of love and justice to the baptized.
“The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.”(Page 856, The Book of Common Prayer).
Among the ordained offices, the Diaconate is scripturally identified, originally as an appointive office. Best characterized by service in the pattern of Jesus Christ, it may involve providing acts of mercy, distribution of food, money, and other forms of aid to the needy, and the bringing of the world’s needs to the Church’s attention. Deacons often are found in institutional settings such as hospitals and hospices, prisons and schools, in ministry to the poor and the homeless, among immigrants and the marginalized. In the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Order of Deacons is a separate and distinct ministry order whose members are called Vocational Deacons to distinguish them from Deacons whose final order has been determined to be the priesthood.
For more information about the Ministry of Deacons, click here.
The Ministry of Priests
“The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.” (Page 856, The Book of Common Prayer).”
A priest accompanies the gathered community in breaking open the word, welcomes all to participate in the sacraments, and presides at the shared meal. A priest is invited to accompany the people of God through their deepest joys and sorrows – being there at weddings, funerals, baptisms, quinceañeras, and so much more. But a priest’s job is not esoteric. It often involves helping manage and care for buildings and grounds, finances, hiring and firing staff, and maintaining a safe work and worship environment, and “other duties as assigned”. To be a priest is to be in a constant process of learning. Perhaps a priest’s most important job is to feed the people and then send them out into the world. Community is not made just for ourselves, but it serves us so we can be of service to the world. A gifted priest can work with a variety of personalities and help draw out various gifts. Finally, to be a priest is to be at the center of a community, and point not to oneself but to Christ.
The Ministry of Religious Orders and Communities
Some Episcopalians, both lay and ordained, feel called to join a religious order or community. This is a form of discipleship that lives out the Gospel in community with others. Religious orders and communities serve the greater church in several ways. Many maintain retreat houses and offer individual spiritual direction. Members often serve in the ministries of pastoral care, catechesis, preaching, and social justice.
There are a variety of different types of religious orders and communities. Some are for men, others are for women, and others are mixed. They have active, contemplative, and mixed expression of community life, with spiritualities that include Anglican, Augustinian, Benedictine, Celtic, and Franciscan. All have a rule of life and are committed to daily prayer, life in community, and hospitality. The difference between them is that a religious community, unlike a religious order, does not hold property in common or commit to a celibate life. For more information about the specific religious orders and communities in the Episcopal Church, click here (note this link is external to this website).
The Ministry of Bishops
“The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.” (Page 855, The Book of Common Prayer)
A bishop is pastor, prophet, and administrator. Our church is rooted in relationship, and pastoral care from the bishop ensures that we can accomplish all we are meant to in relation with each other. The church and its leaders need always to remind society that there is a way of openness and love when the world wants to operate out of fear. As the highest church leader in a region, the bishop especially needs to have a prophetic voice expressing this hope in our modern age. As the early church grew, and the local churches defined leadership roles, the idea of a leader being organizationally responsible for the larger church in a region came to define the role of bishop as administrator.
A bishop administers the diocese -a regional organization of congregations- resolves disciplinary issues, sets the prophetic tone for the work of the diocese, makes congregational visits within the diocese, presides over ordination and confirmation ceremonies, and provides pastoral care in a general sense to all members of the diocese, but specifically to the ordained leaders in the diocese.