Dear Craig and Mark,
Although the two of you are only slightly acquainted, you share something important in common. You will both be ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada, albeit in different Dioceses, within three weeks of each other this May and June.
I was ordained a Deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada on 20 May 1980 in Toronto, Ontario. I was twenty-five years old. There were twelve of us ordained in St. Paul’s Church on Bloor Street. The ordaining bishop was the Rt. Rev. Allan Read.
Apart from two sabbatical leaves I have spent the entire thirty-six years since that day, working in the church.
I am at a different stage on the trajectory of ministry than either of you. Your ministry mostly lies ahead waiting to be explored and discovered. The majority of my years of ordained ministry are behind me.
Recently, I was asked to imagine the legacy I hope to leave when I am finished working in the church. It is a curious question, not one I have ever pondered, nor about which I particularly care. But it did make me wonder what I might think looking back over thirty-six years in the church-business.
Statistically, I have served in a church that has been in decline throughout my ministry. Attendance in the Anglican Church in Canada during the years of my ministry has been cut in half. If this upsets and disturbs you, I am sorry.
But it is good to face reality. You are being ordained into a church that is numerically diminished. This decline is simply a reality.
But I am not convinced that numbers are the most important thing about this church in which we share ministry. I do not believe the church can be adequately evaluated by counting. As far as I can tell from the Gospels, Jesus never counted his followers or instituted a campaign to recruit new ones or better ones when those he first chose betrayed, abandoned, or denied him. Certainly, Jesus does not appear to have concerned himself with the financial bottom line.
If I think about success in ministry, or “legacy” at all, I think about things that to most people are simply invisible. I think about people whose hearts have inexplicably opened to an awareness of the divine Presence. I think about people who, against all odds, have discovered gentleness and grace. I think of healed relationships, of hope born in the midst of terrible darkness, and of extraordinary acts of compassion, generosity, and faithfulness. I think of people who have endured through pain and have found that the tragedies of life have the capacity to break their hearts open to deep truth and radiant beauty.
Most of these stories will never make it on to the front page of the newspaper. They are secret signs of God’s kingdom; they are too numerous to count.
So, despite the gloomy news, I am not disheartened by the state of the church into which you are being ordained. God’s work continues. God’s ministry carries on. It may be that the church my generation is passing on to you will have fewer resources to support buildings in the future. There may be less money to pay salaries. You may find that you have less social status in the community. None of this can stop God’s work. The Spirit who has called you into ministry is greater than any structural embodiment of that Spirit.
The world is touched in untold invisible ways by the living presence of God.
My desire as I move into the final years of my “professional” ministry is to keep my heart open to God’s Spirit and to support the work of that Spirit in whatever way I am able.
My prayer for you as you approach your ordinations is that you may seek only to live responsively to the Spirit. Don’t carry the burden of the church on your shoulders. Live in the flow of God’s Spirit, trusting that God provides the necessary resources for all that God desires to bring into being. Our task is to discern where the Spirit is leading and cooperate with whatever we discern.
For both of you as you make this step in fulfilling your call in ministry I pray you may always keep at the centre of your life the desire to listen deeply to the Spirit who has brought you to this place. When your heart stays open, God will guide you into the path of peace and lead you in the ministry for which you are uniquely equipped in whatever form that may be manifest.
The church is blessed by your commitment and asks only that you stay open to the heart of Christ that is the foundation of this church.
God bless you both,