The Baptism of our Lord
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today is the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, and we have just heard the story of Jesus being cleansed in the water of the Jordan, the fire of the Holy Spirit came upon him from heaven, and he was sent forth to serve God in the world, as Messiah.
That’s our story, too: we are purified by God, fired up in the Spirit, and sent forth to serve. So it’s a good day to baptize children and an adult at two of our services. For in this feast we’re celebrating not only Jesus’ baptism; we’re celebrating our baptismal life, a lifestyle of cleansing, renewing, and going out of ourselves into ministry.
Recently, ministry has been much on my mind: the ministries of deacons, priests, bishops, but most importantly, lay people. And so this morning I’d like to give you a kind of state of the parish report on ministry. First, ordained ministry.
We’ve just passed a year since Fr. Daniel Gutierrez’ ordination to the priesthood, and a year and a half since Judith Jenkins’ ordination as a deacon. 10 days ago Deacon Jan Bales transferred to volunteer status, and hopefully, more freedom in how she balances the ministry she chooses to do here and her personal and family life.
On Wednesday, Deacon Judith and I will be going to Texas to take part Patricia Riggins’ ordination to the priesthood, at long last. Judith and Daniel and I were reminiscing about how 3½ years ago the three of them first went to the diocese for approval to go forward towards ordination. Patricia ended up having to go to another diocese, because of some muddy waters around here. But she persevered, and Bishop Mathes of San Diego came through for us.
Patricia is one of 4 women over the last 20 years who have had to take the same circuitous route from this parish to the priesthood: Julie Graham, Susan Allison-Hatch, Johnette Shane, and Patricia. One can’t help but see a pattern. I hope that things are easier when we elect a new bishop this year.
This fall the parish Discernment Guild, and then your Vestry, unanimously agreed to put forward Randy Elliott for consideration by the diocese as a deacon. Randy happens to be a gay, partnered man, and has chosen to wait until our new bishop is in place before he approaches the diocese.
Speaking of whom, in a week the diocesan search committee will be announcing the nominees for the election of our next bishop, which will take place in April. Frankly, my prayer is that God will give us the grace to find and choose a person who will help this diocese mature. For many years, we have desperately needed a more contemporary, intelligent, creative, inclusive, and professional atmosphere in this diocese, and this starts with leadership.
Finally, in the January issue of the Angelus, our newsletter, you may have seen a letter from our Vestry to the diocese, urging them to consent to the election of Mary Glasspool, a partnerned lesbian woman, as an assisting bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles.
All of this is about ordained ministry, and there is much to be thankful for, much to be concerned about, and much to pray for and work towards. St. Michael’s is a community that, despite the odds, has fostered many remarkable ordained vocations. It is a community that has attracted about a dozen retired and non-stipendiary clergy who choose to be a part of parish life here. And it is a community that will continue to discern with women and men whether they are called to ministry as deacons or priests.
But the really important ministry is lay ministry. You are 98% of the church. Clergy may provide some of the leadership and support and theological grounding, but you also teach and pastor, lead liturgy, serve the suffering, gather people for spiritual formation, imagine the future with God, and give your time, talent, and treasure to make that future possible. Everything happens because of you.
In 3 weeks, at our Annual Parish Meeting, we plan on sharing with you a vision for developing lay ministry in the parish. In its depth and scope, it is unlike anything we have done here before.
I believe that the Holy Spirit has been building this vision, and I hope that you will find it not only challenging, but very exciting. I think it will be the beginning of a new era in the history of our parish. I won’t reveal the details of this vision today – for that, you’ll have to come to the Annual Meeting on January 31. But I can paint a general picture.
As you know, we have been quite occupied over the last few years with two things. One has been the very practical work of architectural design and fundraising for our Ministry Complex. We will soon begin construction.
The second is strengthening our organization for lay ministry. We have undertaken a coordinated, intentional effort to structure things differently so that we look to one another for direction, so that more of us own the ministries we share, so that spirituality can be found in one another and in our programs.
These two emphases are coming together this year: construction and reorganization. We will soon have space to do the ministry we feel called to do and be the community we are becoming. But what are we called to do? And what are we becoming? This is the challenging and exciting part.
To discover this, we will be undertaking an 18-month process of renewal and visioning. After two years of concern with money and buildings and organization, we will now begin to dream again. It’s really time for that.
With the help of a spiritual director to the process and the community-organizing methodology of Albuquerque Interfaith, we will discover together what our passions are, who our most effective lay leaders are, what our resources consist of, and where God is calling us in the decade ahead. It will be a ground-level, bottom-up work of the Spirit, explored patiently over 18 months in one-on-one conversations, prayer, home meetings, Bible study, and large gatherings. You will re-imagine St. Michael’s ministry, with the guidance of the Spirit.
At the end of this time, I suspect that in many ways, we will continue to be the kind of place St. Michael’s has been for 60 years. But we will also be living into much more of our potential.
We are currently an amazingly vibrant and gifted parish; but if we can welcome the fire of the Spirit by re-visioning our call to ministry, we will blossom into a remarkable community. We will harmonize and set loose the gifts, passions, and resources that are still somewhat dormant. And we will be a brighter light to the world around us.
That, after all, is what it is all about. God came to the world as light, filling a human life with divinity. The wise men saw this light in Jesus. When he was cleansed and empowered through baptism, he took God’s light out into the world, healing and loving and teaching, and the world was never the same.
This is our story, too. We come into this world, filled with God’s light. As we journey deeper in faith, this light becomes more visible. As we are cleansed and empowered by the Spirit in baptism, we are compelled to go out and serve the world in which we live.
This is Jesus’ story. It is the story of those to be baptized today. And it is the story of every faithful Christian community. Pray for your parish community, that we might live into its promise.