This month, I have conducted a funeral, a baptism and a wedding and I have only done so because I am an ordained Minister of the Word. This vocation allows me access into the most intimate parts of people’s lives through pastoral conversations and listening to their stories. It is an honour that I don’t take for granted.
Recently, I was in conversation with a retired minister who had originally been part of a Methodist circuit. I had never met this gentleman before but he struck me as someone with true wisdom so I listened to him carefully. He touched upon his time as a Methodist Minister and said they were likened to an Order. An order in this context means a group of people living under a religious rule; it speaks of the communal aspect of faith and living the faith. He spoke of being part of something bigger than him, of belonging to a collegiate and that being a source of strength and comfort.
I began to think about this idea of an Order in our context at Manningham. We are a community of faith, something that is bigger than us as individuals, something to which we belong. Each individual is important – God knows each hair on our heads – but the community is the whole. Our faith is communal not individual, and always has been from the times of Abraham and beyond.
Faith is something we, as Christians, are called to reaffirm on a regular basis to ensure that we are aligning ourselves to God rather than our own or someone else’s agenda. We do this by regular attendance at worship where we join others in our faith community in singing, praying, saying familiar words, listening to the Scriptures, learning more about our faith. Alongside this, we live out our faith in the wider community through our actions and our words, our volunteering and the way we live. We are called to walk the talk. Supported by regular prayer, Bible study and reflection, we reaffirm our faith in God. And we do this as a community of faith, not on our own as individuals but connected together as a community.
At Manningham, we are constantly improving at including many different people in the leadership of worship, mission, prayer and all other aspects of our church life. It doesn’t mean we have it right yet, it just means we are on that path and aware of being inclusive, according to our Culture of Safety practices. But what about participation in one faith community?
We are called to participate in the community of faith – this is how we grow in faith, practice being disciples, learn about the mystery of God. But participation does not seem to be rated as highly as leading. When worship leaders are leading, the congregation is not the audience, the congregation are the participants – the worship leader is simply leading the participation. The worship is held for God, not the leader or the congregation. It is held to praise and worship God, not to praise anyone else. So someone leading worship in a way that is performance based is missing the point of being there in the first place. And someone leaving after worship saying “I didn’t get anything out of that” is also missing the point.
Participation in communal worship as a community of faith is essential to ensure we are living according to God’s values and not our own. As a Minister of the Word, I do this on a Sunday but also during every funeral, baptism and wedding that I lead. As well as leading the congregation, I am also participating in the worship. I don’t just read the words of prayer, I pray them with you. I don’t just wait until it’s my turn to speak again, I listen to the leader speaking at that time. And during the week when I am preparing services, I am participating in prayer and reflection along with so many others – sometimes literally in teams but sometimes metaphorically across time and space and this is something from which I draw great strength. I wonder if this is the idea of an Order.
Along with my colleagues, I am part of an Order of clergy. As your Minister, I am part of a community of faith here at Manningham where we learn together, act in mission together and share the faith together. We participate together and pray for each other understanding that we are all, in some way, flawed and wanting. I am grateful to the retired minister who reminded me of my Order and I am grateful to Manningham for the opportunity to live out this call to ordained ministry.
Final words are reserved for the Building Bridges team – go well everyone and I so looking forward to hearing the stories.