Category Archives: ministry

(A bit of) what you need to know about UC elders…

Reading
Luke 19.1–10

 

Let me tell you about the first time I went to church after I gave my life to Jesus. Some of you will know that it was the church of my best friend at school, and that it was an Open Brethren congregation. He’d invited me, and I was glad to go.

I’d been brought up as a nominal Anglican, rarely setting foot inside a church.

The Brethren have a particular style of worship, which includes a weekly Memorial of the Lord’s Supper. So I’m sitting in church, and the bread and wine (real wine!) were passed around the pews. I receive the Lord’s Supper.

Unbeknown to me, this causes quite a flutter of consternation. Who is this teenager who comes to church for the very first time and partakes of the Lord’s Supper?

After the service, my friend comes to me. ‘The elders’ have taken him aside. They want to know who I am. Is your friend a Christian? they ask him? He says he thinks so. He then tells me I have to go and talk to them.

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Christ In Leadership

A typically thought-provoking reflection on leadership by William Willimon.

Christ In Leadership.

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John and Mary, Jesus and Josie: A sermon for the Induction of the Rev. Josie Nottle (8 December 2011)

John and Mary, Jesus and Josie

 

Readings
Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Mark 1.1-8

 

It’s Advent, and two of the most wonderful people in the Bible appear in our Lectionary readings every year at this time. Those two are Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist.

(Not that they ever come together in our Lectionary readings. I’ve cheated! I’ve taken one of the choices for the ‘Psalm’ from this coming Sunday—it’s actually the Song of Mary in Luke 1—and I’ve teamed it with the Gospel Reading from last Sunday, from Mark 1. So tonight we have John and his Auntie Mary together.)

I say I like these two, but I’m not sure I’d like to have either living next door to me. They’re both prophets, burdened with a need to tell out the word that God gives them. I really don’t think I’d like to live next door to a prophet, especially John with his weird diet and his funny clothes. And what’s more, they’re both saints. If there could be one thing worse than living next door to a prophet, that would be living next to a certified saint.

But here we have John and Mary, prophets and saints. Though I doubt that either would get through the Uniting Church’s selection process to become ordained ministers. John would have too many ‘personality issues’ and Mary would be too young (apart from having a young baby to take care of)—so Josie, you’ve done even better than them. You really do have a lot to live up to.

John was a cantankerous old coot. (Though he was actually a cantankerous young coot if the truth’s to be known.) He stood at the end of the old order and he proclaimed a brand new thing: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark says,

…people from the whole Judean country-side and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him…

Sounds like he was as successful as a modern-day tele-evangelist. His approach wouldn’t work too well in these materialistic days though.

Among the throngs who came to him was Jesus, perhaps seeking to know the direction that his Father God was calling him to go.

There’s a lot we could say about John and Jesus, but I just want to highlight one thing. John says:

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

It was said that disciples owed their teacher every duty except to untie the laces of his sandals. This was too demeaning.

John says not only should he untie the laces of the one who is coming, but that he is unworthy to do this very demeaning thing.

There are some often-quoted words in the Fourth Gospel. John the Evangelist has John saying about Jesus:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Josie, you are a minister of the Word. There is a real sense in which you are a symbol of the Word, the Word-made-flesh.

As a symbol, you are to point beyond yourself to the Jesus, who is the One you symbolise in a particular way. You must decrease, that he may increase. You may not be worthy to untie his laces, but listen: he has made you worthy. You have the dignity of a daughter of God.

Yet any symbol that points to the One who was broken on the cross needs to be a ‘broken symbol’. To decrease in the presence of the One broken for our sakes is to turn away from pride, manipulation and self-serving. It is to serve in his Spirit. It is to rejoice when others shine, because they shine with the reflected glory of Jesus Christ, the One more powerful than we are.

In the end, a broken symbol leads people to faith, not to control or power or possession of something. Your ministry will elicit faith within the people of God.

Take John as your example; not in the way you dress or what you eat or how often you shower, but in who you are. And in Who you belong to, and Who you yield to.

And what about Mary? Josie, you’re a young woman, but Mary was about half your age. We Protestants tend to ignore Mary; she makes us nervous. One Advent, a friend of mine said she was preaching on Mary. I said, ‘So you’re preaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary?’ She said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t call her that.’ I said, ‘Why not? The Bible does.’ She replied, ‘Oh yes, so it does!’ (All right, I confess: I was deliberately being a smart arse.)

The point is this: there are passages in the  Scriptures that value Mary more highly than we do. So we should look at her more than we do.

For tonight, let me again just say one thing: Mary is the example of a believer. She shows us what it is to believe. When confronted with an arduous task of gargantuan proportions, she just says,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

But that’s after she questions God:

“How can this be…?”

Mary says “Let it be” after she questions what this is all about. And then Mary praises God.

Josie, I suspect you’ve taken a similar route in coming to Centenary. You’ve no doubt questioned whether this is a task of gargantuan proportions—but I think it’s not!—and you’ve sought whether God is calling you here.

And once you decided that was indeed the case, you said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” And I know you have given thanks to God for bringing you to this point.

Mary was a courageous young woman, who knew the consequences for her could be severe—even death by stoning—but she said “Yes”.

Josie, you are another Mary, as are we all. Jesus is being formed within you, and changing the way you look at life. You know that Mary sang the truth:

You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty
from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry
with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

Tell us that story, Josie, tell us again and again! Lead us to live that story, as Mary did. And always keep in mind that Mary was only half your age, so take St Paul’s advice to Timothy also (1 Timothy 4.12):

Let no one despise your youth.

So Josie, whatever else you are, you are a symbol—a broken symbol—pointing us to the risen and crucified Lord. He is being formed within your very being, so you can be bold and daring with Mary. Be a broken symbol among us and with us and for us.

I don’t know if you’re a prophet, or a saint, Josie; maybe you are, but if so I’m sure I’ll get used to working with one. For now, on behalf of the people of God in this place, let me just say, “Welcome!”.

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“Christianity has to be disappointing…”

I’m reading a very good book at the moment: The Nearness of God: Parish ministry as spiritual practice, by Julia Gatta. She writes from an Anglican (actually, US Episcopal) perspective, and writes:

I will be looking at characteristically priestly ministries to see just how grace might show up, to notice how Christ might be at work in us and through us.

How we are formed as persons through ministry is of great interest to me. But ‘formation’ involves times that feel more like ‘de-formation’. So I was gabbed by a quotation Gatta takes from Simon Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection:

Christianity has to be disappointing, precisely because it is not a mechanism for accomplishing all our human ambitions and aspirations, it is a mechanism for subjecting all things to the will of God….Christianity necessarily involves a remaking of our hopes. And our disappointments are an unavoidable part of the process.

I think this is close to saying that the Church does not exist to meet our needs. Except for one: The need to become a disciple, to grow in Christ, to be more conformed to the image of Christ. That difficult process, that birthing of Christ within us, involves times of pain. And disappointment with ourselves, and others. We just can’t get around it.

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Synopsis: Presbyteral Services of Ordination, 1977-1995: The Uniting Church in Australia ‘within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’

In Genesis 18, Abraham haggles with God with the result that if there were ten righteous people in Sodom, it would be spared. When I mused about putting the synopsis of my PhD thesis on the blog I had decided that if there were not ten but one who asked I’d do it. Thanks, Nicole!

This thesis examines whether the presbyteral ordination rite of the Uniting Church conforms to acceptable ecumenical practice in the western Christian tradition and thereby supports the claim that its presbyters are ordained as ministers in the Church catholic. It looks at the period 1977-1995, a particularly active time for the Commission on Liturgy in the writing of services of ordination. Appendix C outlines developments since that time.

The Uniting Church in Australia, formed from the union of Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in 1977, declares that it ‘lives and works within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ (Basis of Union, para. 2; the Basis is the Uniting Church’s foundational document).

One consequence of this declaration is its claim to ordain its ministers of the Word (presbyters) as ministers in the Church catholic. This thesis examines whether the course that the Uniting Church has taken in its liturgical practices of ordination of ministers of the Word has been consistent with its own assertions; or whether, while still continuing to make the same claims, the Uniting Church has paid insufficient attention to the witness of the Church catholic.

The Uniting Church was formed as a Church that found the Faith in the sources received from the Church catholic—in Christ the Word, in the scriptures, in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and in its foundational documents from the Protestant Reformation and the Wesleyan revival. Consistent with this, the members of the Joint Commission on Church Union sought to establish a ministry accepted by all, with a threefold ordering of bishops, presbyters and deacons. This goal proved elusive. The full working out of this vision involved a proposed Concordat with the Church of South India. That Church would be invited to send bishops to ordain bishops in the Uniting Church, so that the sign of apostolic succession would be both given and received by the new Church. The Joint Committee on Church Union was unable to agree on this proposal, and so it was stillborn.

The Joint Committee could then have aimed lower, for a form of ordained ministry that was more narrowly-rooted in the traditions stemming from the Reformation and the Wesleyan revival. However, the ordination rite of the Uniting Church from 1977 onwards has seen ordination as conferred in the name of Christ through the authority of the presbytery ‘by prayer and the laying on of hands in the presence of a worshipping congregation’, as mandated by the Basis of Union (para. 14(a)). It has also located ordination within the context of the eucharist; neither practice was inevitable, given that neither is practised by all Reformed churches.

In examining the question of whether the presbyteral ordination rite of the Uniting Church in the period 1977-1995 supports the claim that its presbyters are ordained as ministers in the Church of God, attention has been paid to the framework of James Puglisi. Puglisi’s schema of the process of admission to ordained ministry provides a lingua franca for this process from different traditions, and the thesis will show that the various revisions of the Uniting Church’s rite of ordination follow this framework.

The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi is worked out in the Uniting Church predominantly by the conforming of liturgy to doctrinal statement. In the 1992 service this relationship of doctrine and liturgy was stretched almost to breaking point, though the Commission on Liturgy sought to mitigate the effects of the decision of the Sixth Assembly in 1991 (summarised as ‘one ordination, two accreditations’) that marked a distancing from the practice of the Church catholic. The Uniting Church’s commitment to having as ecumenically recognisable a ministry as possible is shown in the correction of this anomaly at the very first opportunity, at the Seventh Assembly in 1994. As part of the background to the analysis of the Uniting Church’s claims to the ordination of its presbyters as part of the Church catholic, the forms that ministry took in the New Testament and early Church period are sketched, along with a discussion of ministry in various streams of the Protestant Reformation. Liturgies from the Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus, dating from perhaps the third-century, through the Reformation to the present day are also examined, particularly those that influenced the writing of Uniting Church liturgies.

The various versions of the Uniting Church rite of ordination are commented upon, interspersed with a discussion of the debate that was occurring at the time in the Uniting Church Assembly, and—in the case of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry—ecumenically.

The Basis of Union clearly states ‘the Presbytery will ordain by prayer and the laying on of hands in the presence of a worshipping congregation’ (para. 14(a)), and leaves room open for a renewal of the diaconate (para. 14(c)) and for an episcopal office (para. 16). The diaconate was renewed by the Sixth Assembly in 1991, which was implemented in an idiosyncratic way, by ordaining to ‘ministry in Christ’s church’ and then ‘accrediting’ to the ministry of the Word or the diaconate. Had this form of commissioning for ministry become entrenched in the Uniting Church, this thesis argues that the Uniting Church would not be able to sustain the claim that it ordained ministers of the Word into the ministry of the Church catholic. However, the Seventh Assembly in 1994 overturned this decision, and re-established the ministry of the Word as a separate ordination.

This thesis concludes that because the form of the rite conforms to acceptable ecumenical practice in the western Christian tradition, and because the decision of the Seventh Assembly in 1994 enabled a restoration of ordination by prayer and the imposition of hands, the Uniting Church can indeed make the claim that it ordains its ministers of the Word as ministers of the Church catholic.

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A Very Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Uniting in Worship 2 contains ‘A Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day’. The Working Group on Worship simplified it at our meeting last week, and offers it on the website. I’m putting it here too:

A VERY SHORT GUIDE

to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Introduction

When we cross the threshold into a service of worship, we bring with us the concerns and joys of our lives. In other words, we bring the concerns and joys of the mission field in which we live. The Sunday service does not provide ‘time out’ from our daily mission; liturgy and mission are integrally related. ’Liturgy’[1] is our graced response to God’s gracious acts. It is best to think of liturgy as the work of God in which God graciously enables us to share. Through it we are brought into relationship with the triune God and we offer worship as the body of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In worship, we speak to God in a direct way in praise and adoration, confession and lament, intercession and thanksgiving. It is the primary speech of the community to God, rather than speech about God, the secondary speech of reflection and discussion. It is also God’s speech to us – for example, in the word of grace at the declaration of forgiveness, in the proclamation of the Scriptures, in the blessing that rings in our ears as we leave. The speech of worship is nonverbal as well as verbal, including such things as gesture and movement, colour and sacrament, silence and music.

The nature of worship gives rise to the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day, just as the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day helps us to appreciate the nature of worship. Knowing the structure of worship gives space for creativity.

The liturgy should give expression to the life of a local worshipping community. It may be enhanced by such things as drama, dance, the visual arts, music and the use of multimedia. A whole congregation may be involved e.g., through the use of percussive music and/or movement. Readings and prayers may be offered by more than one voice. Creative presentations may be helpful; they should be well-prepared and thoughtful. They should be a vehicle for the worship of the people, rather than a performance. Participatory worship is always the guiding principle; the congregation is not an audience.

The ministry of the leadership of worship is crucial; the leaders simultaneously lead the people in worship and worship as part of the body of Christ.

The Service of the Lord’s Day

The Service of the Lord’s Day has four parts, which could be briefly characterised as: gathering, hearing, being fed and being sent.

The Gathering of the People of God/Gathering as God’s People

The leader greets the people in God’s name, and calls them to worship. Here, we cross a threshold – we move into a sacred space, and a sacred time, a space and time ‘set apart’ for the purpose of communal praise.

At this point, we pray in particular ways. Some of these ways may include:

• asking for God to be present with us in a prayer of invocation;

• praising and adoring God for being God in a prayer of adoration;

• confessing our sins in a prayer of confession, and hearing the declaration of forgiveness;

• pouring out our hearts to God in a prayer of lament.

This is honest conversation with God; God’s greatness and God’s care for us bring our response into being. In worship, we are formed as a people of faith, receiving our identity as people who call for God to come to their aid; who praise God in adoration; who confess their sins to the God of mercy and grace; who cry out to God for justice.

The Service of the Word/Receiving God’s Word

People are shaped by story, by narrative. When we want to get to know a person, we listen to their story. When we hear stories again and again, we are shaped and re-shaped as the stories are told and re-told. As Christian people we are shaped by the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Word; the story of God’s dealings with Israel; and the story of God’s people through history. As we hear this story, we are formed by an alternative perspective on life – the perspective of the gospel.

The story is told through proclamation of the gospel. This includes a reading or an alternative presentation of the Scriptures, preaching or another form of reflection on Scripture; it may also include drama/movement, symbolic action, art, multimedia resources, and silence. We hear Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, in the ‘unique prophetic and apostolic testimony’ of the Scriptures (Basis of Union, 5).

Hearing the story requires a response, for it is God’s Word addressing us. The immediate response is often one such as ‘In this is the Word of the Lord/Thanks be to God’. Yet the response does not end here. It can take various forms, such as a time of silent reflection or some form of action. It may continue in saying together the Nicene Creed or another statement of faith, which is a corporate re-telling of the story. It also includes making an offering (of ourselves, our gifts, our money, and our prayers for others); and the notices and concerns of the community.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper/Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

Baptised into Christ in his death and resurrection, we are invited to share in the meal of thanksgiving. An invitation to the Lord’s table is given. This invitation requires pastoral sensitivity; all baptised Christians are welcome to share the meal, but not all may be permitted by the laws of their Church to receive communion with the Uniting Church. This needs to be respected as we continue to pursue the unity to which Christ calls us.

The various names given to this meal by our traditions show something of its meaning: it is the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Christ on the night of his betrayal; it is the Holy Communion, a sacrament of union between Christ and believers, and of the union of the believers themselves; it is the Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving’. Indeed, its primary note is thanksgiving – honouring God for all that God is, and giving thanks for all that God has done in the work of creation and salvation.

We use bread and wine which are the work of human hands. More than this, they are the gifts of God for us in the sacrament. They are the signs of God’s work for our salvation in Jesus Christ. They are most fitting for the purpose when they are used boldly: a single loaf of bread and a common cup are most appropriate. After the service, what remains of the elements should be consumed or otherwise reverently disposed of. Respect for these means of grace, as well as sensitivity to our ecumenical sisters and brothers, require this care.

The centrepiece of this part of the liturgy is The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. The origins of this central Christian prayer lie in Jewish prayer at Passover and in the grace at every meal. Jesus built on these at the Last Supper. Our present sacrament also derives meaning from other meals hosted by Jesus – e.g. after the resurrection at Emmaus (Luke 24), or by the seashore (John 21). Its essence is thanksgiving to God for the mighty acts of God. It is a ‘Great’ Prayer because it is the expression of all the gifts of God for our salvation, above all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is important that the significance of the prayer is not diminished, and that it is offered prayerfully.

Here, we remember Christ; indeed, we are ‘re-membered’ in Christ, ‘re-joined’ to him as he is present with us in the action of this meal.[2] We are ‘re-called’ to the presence of Christ in our midst. This meal anticipates and makes real the reign of Christ; in sharing it we are reconciled to one another. This part of the liturgy often begins with the greeting of peace. This action is about being reconciled in Christ, and with one another in Christ, rather than exchanging a personal greeting.

We tell the narrative of the institution of the Sacrament at the Last Supper by Jesus, whether in The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, or before it; this is part of the story that shapes us as a people of Christ.

We invoke the Holy Spirit,[3] that the bread and wine may be the body and blood of Christ for us, and that we may have a deepened awareness of and participation in the reign of Christ. As we pray for the fullness of the Spirit, the hope of the full reconciliation of all creation with God is enacted.

Having given thanks, we break the bread and lift the cup and share the meal as the community of Christ.

The Prayer after Communion has similarities to a grace after a meal; it is also a self-offering, and a prayer that God will continue the blessing.

The Sending Forth of the People of God/Being Sent on God’s Mission

Having heard the word and shared the meal together, we are sent forth on mission; we are again on a threshold. We typically sing a hymn/song of mission. The act of singing helps to confirm our identity as a community.

The leader gives a blessing to the people in the name of the triune God; this is a blessing for the next stage of the journey, a proclamation of the Word of God, an assurance that God’s promises are always made new.

This part of the liturgy encourages us to continue the worship of God in our witness and service; in the words of the Iona Community, we see that ‘worship and work are one’; or as the Eastern Orthodox tradition has expressed it, we go to ‘the liturgy beyond the Liturgy’. We go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ.


[1] ‘Liturgy’ (Greek leitourgia) literally means ‘the work of the people’, which was understood to be public service to God.

[2] The Greek term for this ‘remembrance’ is anamnesis.

[3] This ‘invoking of the Spirit’ is the epiclesis in Greek.

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Anniversaries.

Ok. The really important one first: today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we look around the world, we see there is still so much to be done. Even in Australia! According to the Getup! campaign , Australia is the only democracy in the world without human rights protection. We don’t have the right to express our opinions, or the right to an adequate living standard, to be free from physical and psychological torture or discrimination. I think I’m safe—I’m white, middle class, educated, straight… But there are others who may not be so safe. The good news is that the Government has decided to ask us whether we think human rights are worth protecting.

So if you’d like to join me in asking the government to put Human Rights legislation in place, go here. Thanks!

That’s the really important anniversary today. The less important one is that today marks the 20th anniversary of my ordination as a minister of the Word. I’m grateful to God for that. And to my family. And that I’m still enthusiastic about ministry. And that I’ll be getting together with Brisbane-based friends on Friday night and celebrating!

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