It’s More Of A Promise

We are being challenged at every turn to take the powerful message of God’s creative and saving love out into the world, into the marketplace and into the communities in which we serve. And we make it hard. Like Moses, we tell God we can’t do that. We aren’t eloquent enough or smart enough. I have discovered that if we listen well, the very person who needs to hear the Good News will give us the words to share God’s story in ways that she or he can hear.

Jesus modeled this all the time. Whenever he was asked a question, he did not go off into a theological treatise, he pointed to the children in the midst of them or the vineyards that surrounded them or the sheep on the hills being tended by their shepherds. These were things they knew and understood. At the same time they conveyed the love of God in thought provoking ways. We have the opportunity to do the same in our everyday lives.

cow-174822_1280I had the privilege of officiating at my nephew’s wedding. It was held near the family’s dairy farm in a very pretty setting. The young couple had met in school where they studied dairy husbandry. They both live and breathe cows not just for the milk production but also for the pedigrees. The American Kennel Club has nothing on the dairy industry when it comes to showing and breeding animals at their best.

cow-1374685_1280So on the morning of the wedding, I was asking my nephew how his Guernseys had done in their classification—a measure of their conformation. He proceeded to go on at great length about each cow by name. I said to him, “When you breed these cows, you take great care to select a good mate for them, correct?” He agreed. But then I challenged him by asking whether or not there was any guarantee for the results. His response was immediate. “No, it’s more of a promise.”

God gave me the words for this young couple on their wedding day and it came from the groom and their shared lives together. Wedding vows are ‘more of a promise’—ones they would make to each other. But more importantly, they took these vows in the presence of God. And whatever happens, we know God keeps God’s promises. God will be with them as they work on keeping theirs. That is a guarantee.

God’s promise to us at our baptism is that we are beloved of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. As we are challenged to take this message to the world and are feeling inadequately equipped, remember, God keeps God’s promises.

Canon Martha Ishman, Rector at St. James, Titusville and Canon for Mission Development and Transition, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Martha Ishman

What is my vocation?

Recently, one of the sons of our diocese, Tim Dyer, was ordained to the transitional diaconate. It was a wonderfully vibrant and hope filled day for everyone! Tim’s journey toward the priesthood is not quite complete but it is moving forward and that is a story best told by Tim himself. But his journey began with a deceptively simple question: what is my vocation?

By virtue of our baptism, we all have a vocation. We all have been called by God for ministry in his church. We may be called as lay persons, bishops, priests or deacons. Yes. There are four orders of ministry, not just three. It is unfortunate that when someone feels a call to do more in their life of faith, we tend to assume it is a call to ordained ministry. The truth of the matter is that lay ministry is vital to the life of the church. That said, there is much more to lay ministry than what might first come to mind.

Our catechism defines the ministry of the laity as, “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.” BCP p. 855. A key phrase in this definition is ‘according to the gifts given them.’ When we are discerning our vocation, it is important to know that our call will align with the gifts that we have. We may be called to altar guild, hospitality, visiting, praying, supporting mission work. All of it is ministry.

Discerning a call to ministry begins with the individual—either by the one being called or in some cases by a person who sees in someone else a call to such ministry. When the question keeps nagging and won’t be silenced, we need the help of the community (such as the clergy, spiritual directors and/or diocesan staff) to discern the particular nature of that call.

It may be a call to one of the licensed lay ministries. Most of us are familiar with Eucharistic Ministers and Eucharistic Visitors. However, there are others. One can receive training and be licensed as Worship Leaders, Pastoral Leaders, Preachers, Catechists and Evangelists. These licensed lay ministries are integral components of successful congregational ministry, particularly in the case of bi-vocational and non-stipendiary clergy. If you want more information on the training required for these ministries, contact the Diocesan Church Center.

It may well be a call to ordained ministry. Today there are various paths toward ordination. All of our deacons and some of our priests are locally formed in the diocese. They take most of their classes in the diocese and are ordained as non-stipendiary clergy. Some of our priests are formed through attending full time residential seminaries for a period of three years. Still others follow a more hybrid route with some classes being taken locally and some offered through online classes at accredited seminaries.

What is my vocation? It is a question we all need to be asking as we take our baptismal vows seriously. The answer is the journey of a lifetime. Ask Tim.

The Reverend Martha Ishman, Canon for Mission Development and Transition and Vicar of St. James, TitusvilleMartha Ishman