Friday, September 26, 2014

ELCA Approval Part 1: Person(s) in Ministry

Yesterday I met with my synod's candidacy committee for the final piece of my candidacy journey - approval.  One of the major pieces of the approval process includes writing a large essay following prompts offered by the ELCA.  You can find the prompts here.  I was approved, and have been asked by multiple colleagues and friends to read my essay.  So I will post it here in portions.  The prompts are set up in 3 sections - Person(s) in Ministry, Core Theological Concepts, and Proclamation and Content, which is how I will break the posts up.  I welcome comments and constructive criticism (no bullying or mean-spirited comments please).

Part 1: Person(s) in Ministry

I am an intentionally engaged member of two formative faith communities that are not traditional church.   One is the Deaconess Community, and the other is the ELCA Organizing for Mission Cohort (OFM from here on).  The Deaconess Community (known as sisters) is a collective of women who are called and rostered by the ELCA/ELCIC to bear witness to the world and the church about what diakonia is and how the priesthood of all believers is called and equipped to engage God’s creation as co-creators of peace and justice, through servant leadership.  If you and I have had any conversation at all, you likely understand the draw this has for me!  The sisters engage in deep communal reflection on the Scriptures and how they connect and compel us to engage issues of injustice, marginalization, poverty, suffering, and advocacy around us because of God’s call in our lives individually and as a community.  Sisters actively believe in a theology that connects the context of scripture with the context of culture, and prayerfully discern as a community how we can be a support to neighbors because of our freedom in Christ. 
As a formative community, the Deaconesses equip one another with opportunities for continuing education, active dialogue about global/local issues, and generally support the varied and various ministries to which we as individuals are called as a part of this bigger vocation from within the church.  A big piece of what the Deaconess Community does is equip and send disciples into the world to live out their baptismal call fully and accompanied.  Sisters are accompanied by the community in their ministries of servant leadership, and the sisters accompany and equip the laity in their baptismal calling to diaconal ministry.  
The OFM cohort is a group of mission developers, redevelopers, and community organizers from in and around the ELCA who practice the arts of community organizing and support one another in active reflection and agitation around how we best theologically and contextually do that as church.  OFM has been a deeply formative community for me because we all see the future of church as a hopeful, living, engaged place for wonder and change.  Every single member of the cohort is a missional leader in their own context.  For, the formative understanding of the cohort is that Jesus himself was a community organizer, unafraid to speak truth into context and break boundaries of fear for the sake of justice.  A rich and well-articulated theology of the cross informs the cohort’s deep engagement with the issues of justice and advocacy issues that plague our communities and church, helping us to understand our calling to form leaders and communities that are aware of the uses of power that both hinder and assist the kingdom of God. 
As a woman called to ministry, I feel a strong yearning for intentional community.  With the sisters, I have been given a place to be challenged into quiet reflection on the scriptures as the source and soul of the strength and fire that rise out of me when I engage the terrors of this broken world.  What makes the missional nature of the Deaconess Community so unique is that we don’t shy away from heartache, but also, choose not to be defined by it. Rather, our trust in the mercy of Christ’s prophetically humble accompanying leadership is salve to a missional soul like mine.  What OFM offers me is a place to practice claiming my power as a leader, to practice using my prophetic voice, and to be accountable to the affirmation and agitation we give one another as educated leaders in and for the future of church.  I am challenged to identify individual and institutional realities on both the micro and macro scale that affect my ministry of praxis, and am renewed with a hopeful fire in my spirit that Jesus is with me in the ministry to which I’m called as a Deaconess community organizer.  
I believe that, through our baptisms, God calls us to live lives of participation.   God calls each and every one of us to be co-workers in the healing and creation of the world.  Often times, we as a church struggle to know who should be doing it, and how it should be done.  Accompaniment, service, community, and truth-telling are all ways by which the priesthood of all believers can affirm their baptismal vocation to diakonia - active service and engagement in the world. Each and every one of us is called to diaconal service, no matter what else you are called to do.  A hairdresser is called to diaconal service, and he lives that service out in the listening and caring for person after person sitting in his salon chair.  A lawyer lives her call to diaconal service in the ways she challenges the system to value the rights of her clients.  A pastor lives her call to diaconal service in her encouragement of the congregation to serve on committees to plan ways the community will be nourished and needs will be met.  A baker lives his call to diaconal service when he donates the day’s unsold goods to the food bank down the street.  Every single one of us is called to diaconal servant leadership, but every single one of us struggles to know or believe that we are actually doing God’s work when we are simply doing that which we love.  Yet these things we do, these things we love are ways God calls us into our greater vocation of diaconal service.  
My working definition of vocation is that which we simply cannot avoid doing.  It is what gives us life and sustenance in whatever we do wherever we are.  I like to think of vocation as a mission statement that is unchangeable for my life, that always fits into whatever I am doing - it is always true.  What changes is the call and the way I fulfill that vocation within it.  We all have two vocations - a vocation of diakonia, and a vocation unique to us.  The baker above is called to be a baker, because while he might not always be a baker, his vocation might be to feed people.  He could live that out as a teacher, a story teller, an entrepreneur, a bakery owner, or a delivery truck driver.  Yet he is called to live it out as a baker now.  His diaconal vocation is being lived out as he donates his unsold goods daily.  See the difference between vocation and call?

My personal vocation is to be an equipper to service.  As one who is called to the  Roster of Word and Service, my call is to the diaconate - those who are gifted with this vocation of equipping the church in the ways they live out their individual and communal diaconal vocations of servant leadership.  My vocation is to help others live out their vocations!  One way I am feeling called to do this is as a community organizer.  The church is full of people who are burdened by issues needing advocacy and change.  Being called to be an organizer fulfills my vocation because through it, I can help equip individuals, communities, and congregations to find ways that they can accompany others and meet their needs.  An organizer listens to, gathers together, facilitates, and equips communities to advocate for their own needs and make positive changes in the way things are.  As a diaconal organizer in the church, I can assist congregations in listening to their neighbors, and finding ways to meet and serve their communities - fulfilling their communal diaconal vocations, and growing the reach of the church as a loving, compassionate, advocating, accompanying presence.  

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