One of the joys of my ministry is having the privilege of being in a different parish each week. I enjoy the opportunity to visit with clergy and people in their parishes, to worship with them and learn of all that is happening in their lives.
My visits have taught me much about the faithfulness of clergy and people, and their dedication to living out their baptismal ministries in many and varying ways. I have also come to appreciate that in some parishes with limited resources, both human and financial, creative efforts are made to sustain their ministries. This does not mean that they are not wrestling with the troubling question of viability and the vision required to plan for the future.
I am pleased with the enormous amount of time spent by faithful lay persons carrying out God’s mission in their parishes and communities. At the centre of parish life is the prayerful effort made daily by individuals to do what they believe is their baptismal ministry, in the witnessing of their faith.
The importance of the order of laity is never to be minimized or regarded as of less significance than those of the deacons, priests and bishops. We all share in the royal priesthood of all believers, but we are equally called to be ambassadors for Christ. There has been a significant growth of lay volunteers in our diocese, which is making a difference in how we exercise ministry. The good news is that many parishes are being supported by volunteers in a variety of ways in how they carry out their ministries. However, we need more volunteers to assist because of the increasing demand for programming support. I encourage persons who may be contemplating other ways they may be involved in the life of our diocese to make a call to the Diocesan Centre and explore how they may volunteer in sharing their gifts and skills.
The many support programs in the diocese that are led by volunteers helping parishes reflect a significant shift in the way things are done. Parishes are encouraged to seek the resources available to support them. They may do so when going through a selection process to call a new incumbent. Parishes that are serious about their own development and how healthy they are may seek to be engaged in the Natural Church Development program, whose purpose is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their parish, so that they may work towards becoming healthier. Parishes that experience conflict are assisted with intervention strategies, led in most cases by lay volunteers in addressing their challenges. In some cases, parishes that have found themselves in difficulty with non-compliance or management issues are placed under administration, not as punishment but as an opportunity to regroup, become compliant and, more importantly, to carry on the good work and ministry that these parishes have been doing.
The bishops are exceedingly grateful for the wonderful ministries carried out daily by clergy and people of our diocese. We are proud of our diocese and the faithfulness of many who do so much to “serve Christ’s mission through compassionate service, intelligent faith, and godly worship.” I believe that the work done by so many is because of a healthy spirituality and commitment of members of our diocese to their baptismal covenant.
While there are no expectations of any reward, the diocese confers on some of the faithful named by their parishes, and in other instances by the Bishop of Toronto, the Order of the Diocese of Toronto in recognition of their work and witness in their parishes and beyond. The recognition of these persons is in no way to minimize the value we place on the many who work faithfully for the love of God and church.
We recently celebrated the feast of Pentecost, which is a reminder to us that God has and continues to pour out God’s spirit upon the church and the world. The gift of the Spirit is to enable believers in exercising their respective callings, and to empower us all for the work of ministry and the building up of God’s reign on earth. It is because of this continuous outpouring of the Spirit on the church that all of us have been given opportunity to do wonderful and amazing things in the name of and for the sake of the Gospel. Pentecost encourages us to continue teaching, preaching, healing, caring for the poor, reaching out to the marginalized and standing up for justice for all.
The Spirit poured out at Pentecost continues to be poured out upon the church today. We are experiencing new life being breathed into our diocese, where parishes are facing the challenges before them with courage and willingness to do things differently. In some parishes, congregations are making difficult decisions to close and distribute their resources to new forms of ministry. In some places, congregations are choosing to repurpose their buildings, or their land, to help them reach out in new forms of ministry. Other parishes are reaching out into their neighbourhoods in responding to their needs. These are being done by faithful Anglicans across our diocese, and I encourage others to join in this journey of Christian faith and witness in whatever manner you are able. We are grateful for all that is done in the name of Jesus Christ in the life and work of our diocese.
I encourage us to be open to the Spirit’s leading and not be afraid to ask, “What is the Spirit saying to the church today?” May we be open to hearing and responding to its prompting.