Last Friday night, we attended the ordination of a friend to the diaconate. Since it took place in New Hampshire, the presiding bishop was the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, doing what he was elected to do and loves best: simply being a bishop. (As he often remarks, if anyone wants to see what the church would be like when we've put the current issues behind us, they should come to New Hampshire...)
Characteristically, Gene reminded the candidate and the congregation that bishops, priests, and deacons are, in his opinion, the least among the ministries of the baptized. "Being ordained actually limits your opportunities for ministry," he remarked, standing in the center aisle only a few feet from the wide-eyed candidate and speaking directly to him, "because 99% of the ministry that is done in the world is done by them" - and he gestured toward the congregation. "Your job is to empower, help, and support them in recognizing and doing that work."
He went on to describe the work of a deacon as a combination of humility and chutzpah. The humility comes from recognizing oneself as a servant -- one whose job is to serve the poor, those in prison, those who are suffering. The chutzpah comes from having the courage to remind the rest of us that the poor, the friendless and the needy not only exist, but need our attention. Doing justice, and calling the Church to the work of justice, requires both humility and chutzpah.
Using one's gifts fully is part of our responsibility as God's children, he added. Being humble doesn't mean hiding our gifts, but using them appropriately and in balance - in other words, knowing one's place in the world and acting out of that knowledge. That's true for ordained people, and also true for those of us who have already been ordained to the priesthood of all believers by virtue of our baptism - the "ordination" he considers most important of all.
Gene was speaking about the concept of servant leadership, an idea that comes from Jesus's own comments about himself being "the least among you" when the disciples, to his dismay, began squabbling over who would get to sit on his right hand in heaven. 2000 years of Institutional Church later, servant leadership is still a pretty radical concept, but one that is gaining ground among both clergy and laity. There are plenty of clergy who are very threatened by the concept of sharing their traditional authority -- let alone ceding some of it --to the laity, and who do not see the work of the laity as primary at all. But as seminary enrollment declines, churches close, and the world becomes a more anxious and chaotic place, it seems to me that ALL of us bear increasing responsibility for sharing "the priesthood of all believers" and seeing our whole lives as opportunities for ministry.
Do you agree? If you are clergy, how do you see the changing role of those in ordained ministry? If you are a lay person, do you see aspects of your life as ministry? What sort of support do you need or want in order to do this work more effectively in today's world?