Reinventing ministry

December 11, 2012



The Rev. Canon Dan Webster

[Episcopal News Service] I promise not to use the words “nimble” nor “entrepreneurial” in this commentary.  Both are overused even though folks using these descriptors are searching for ways to discuss how the church is – or must – change.

Since the first century, the gospel has been enculturated for its generation and setting. It has found its way into the hearts of millions through stories and actions that meant something to those experiencing the gospel.

New expressions of ministry are emerging throughout the Episcopal Church. Just as parish day schools or parish nursing programs were established to meet needs in communities, we now see other expressions of ministry that seek to spread Good News.

An Episcopal congregation in a small Kansas town started “Laundry and Lattes” on Sunday nights at a local laundromat near the town’s community college. They offer free coffee to the mostly student clientele and even keep plenty of quarters on hand to make change. If it’s your birthday you get a free wash and dry compliments of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Parsons, Kansas.

Harcourt Parish in Gambier, Ohio saw a need for guest housing in this rural town during parents’ weekend at Kenyon College. Given the shortage of hotel rooms they began offering “Harcourt Homestay @ Kenyon” and got listed on the college’s website for such occasions.  This ministry of hospitality matches visitors with parishioners who open their homes to the college community they serve.  The donations they receive from the guests contribute to the parish budget.

When the parish of St. John’s in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore discerned they could no longer pay the upkeep on their historic church building, the vestry voted to sell it.  They now worship in the chapel of a nearby former Methodist senior living center and  hope this decision will free up funds for outreach both locally and globally

There are dozens more such examples of congregations thinking differently about how to spread the gospel.  We will learn about them over the next year or so from the Rev. Tom Brackett, our denominational missioner for fresh expressions of ministry, redevelopment and new church planting.  Throughout 2013 he will visit all nine provinces of our church, gathering data from similar examples of innovation.  I expect we’ll get a much better picture from his work of how the Holy Spirit is breaking through and reinventing ministry across The Episcopal Church.

Whenever I lead vestry retreats I hear many lamentations about the current state of the church. We’d be a lot better off “if only we had more younger couples with children,” or, “if we had more casserole fundraisers.” Some actually believe we’d be better off if the church was “the way it used to be.”

I’m certain of one thing.  We’re never going back to the way it was.

We are living in a wonderful time of discovery.  We are experiencing many new opportunities, like so many of our forebears, to make the Good News of Jesus Christ relevant to our time.

The Rev. Bob Edgar, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches and current president of Common Cause, used to say, “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. ”  I’m pretty sure he got that from June Jordan’s poem or from Alice Walker’s book, We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.

But whatever, or whoever, inspired it, we are the Episcopalians we’ve been waiting for to help lead God’s church into a new and exciting Spirit-led future.

— The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.  He lives in Baltimore.


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