Sometimes, in the midst of worship songs, in arguments about the icon of priesthood or in the world of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) wristbands, it might be quite possible to forget that our understanding of God includes three persons of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
As someone training for the diaconate I have understood that our icon of ministry comes from the moment Jesus washed his disciples feet whilst the priests take their imagery from Jesus as he presided at the last supper.
But while I worked as a nearly invisible civil servant for the Church of England, devising campaigns or writing press releases that enhanced the ministries of others, I became interested in the idea of the Holy Spirit as my icon of ministry.
Recently I had a conversation with one of the most successful people I know who has an amazing job which allows him to connect all kinds of people, making a real and tangible difference on a global scale. But he said that in church terms he felt like a second-class citizen because he was not ordained and did not wear the badge of authorised church worker.
I believe his work is diaconal – because not all diaconal work is done by ordained deacons (although all deacons have a diaconal ministry.) I believe the work of many of my lay friends is both priestly and diaconal but I think we have become so rooted in a christological (Jesus-centred) view of ministry that we look for the work of incarnate Christ to live on in the Church. Thus when anyone becomes excited about their faith we encourage them into a role which strengthens the life of the church such as a Reader or a priest. (Somehow forgetting that Jesus was a teacher, healer, carpenter, story-teller and a party-goer.)
The incarnate Christ was rooted in a time and place and I think, in our minds and hearts, that time and place has become equated with Church. As disciples we gather to hear from those who have been ordained to represent Jesus and then together we re-enact the Last Supper. The Church somehow captures the presence of Christ and becomes a focus for Jesus’s ongoing ministry.
But the Holy Spirit blows where it will. It gives words to those who need help articulating, it brings life to dry bones, it anoints people to work for justice and it bears witness to Christ. Connecting, articulating, witnessing and working for justice sound a lot like the ministry of a deacon and a lot like much of the work faithful people do outside the walls of the Church because they want to play their part in making God’s world a better place.
I hope we, as church people, can celebrate this work and these people so they do not come to our congregations feeling that they are less than a priest or deacon wearing a dog-collar but knowing they share the ministry and mission of God – and reach the places that could never be reached if all ministry was left to those who are ordained.
Ordained people play a vital and extraordinary role. I know so many wonderful priests whose ministries I would never play down. But we are co-workers and if those of us with a dog-collar are not enabling those of us connected in all corners of the world to join the mission of God then we are missing our calling.
Jesus is our Lord, saviour, friend, example and our pattern for living. But the Holy Spirit also offers us some unique patterns for ministry that could liberate us from the idea that ministry happens in Church and ensure that all our work is seen as sacred and the baptised people of God are seen as equals. I might get myself a new wristband (WWTHSD) What Would the Holy Spirit Do – I hope many of my friends who work outside the church would understand that, like them and through them, the Holy Spirit would be bringing life to the forgotten corners of the world through a myriad of ministries.