Shouldering The Load

We would like to thank Evan Garner for allowing us to post this article from The Anglican Digest. Evan is the Rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Decatur, AL.   

Yesterday, I called a colleague to ask him if he could fill in for me at an upcoming meeting that I am unable to attend. We spoke for a while about what each of us had been up to, and I mentioned that Elizabeth and I had recently served on a Cursillo staff together. “How was that?” he asked, having been to Cursillo as a pilgrim but not yet had the opportunity to serve on staff. “It was great!” I quickly replied. “It is one of the few ways that Elizabeth and I get to share ministry. Usually, I am up front in church while she is sitting in the back with our kids, or she is downstairs teaching Sunday school while I am upstairs leading a class. For once, we were able to do something together in the church, and I loved it.”

After we hung up, I spent a little longer thinking about that weekend—about how good it felt to end each day having worked nonstop alongside my spouse and, more importantly, having shared that work with two-dozen other people. So often in ordained ministry, the clergyperson is given a specific role to fill—one that seems to belong to him or her alone. We stand at the altar and preach from the pulpit, while everyone else remains quietly in a pew. Sure, there are certain tasks that are reserved for ordained persons, but they are far outnumbered by the opportunities for ministry that are shared by all of God’s people. My weekend at Cursillo reminded me just how fabulous the church can be when everyone shares the same mission and helps shoulder the load together.

Urging the church in Corinth to honor the ministry of all baptized persons, Paul wrote:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.
— 1 Corinthians 12:12, 14-16

It seems that some of the Corinthians were stuck on the sidelines, claiming that they were not important enough to take a leadership role in the church, but Paul wanted them to see how every member of the body had a job to do.

Two-thousand years later, we struggle with the same issue. Setting up for receptions? That’s someone else’s job. Teaching Sunday school? I could never do that. Visiting home-bound parishioners? They don’t want to see me. Comforting a widow after the death of her husband? I don’t know how to do that. Calling someone who has not come to church in a while? Isn’t that the minister’s job? Sure, not everyone is called to be a pastor or a teacher or an administrator, but everyone is called to do something. We are all in this together because we are all the body of Christ.

Do you see yourself as an important, fully-functioning member of the body of Christ? Nothing gives me greater joy than making a hospital visit and bumping into a parishioner who has just finished checking on the same person I have come to see. My heart swells with pride when I get a thank you note from someone who is grateful for the meals our parishioners have delivered during an illness. Like a bottle of wine or a roller coaster ride, ministry is something best when it is shared. The greatest privilege of a clergyperson isn’t standing alone at the altar or looking
down on a congregation from the pulpit. The best part of my job is helping everyone else work together for the good of the whole church.

What role do you play in the congregation? What ministry do you bring to the community? Are you an usher? Do you deliver flowers to shut-ins? Will you fix a meal for a grieving family? Will you write a note of encouragement to a sick parishioner? Instead of waiting for someone else to come and pick up the load, shoulder a part of it yourself. Stop calling other people and telling them what needs to be done, and begin looking for ways to do it yourself. We are the body of Christ. We are his hands and his feet. If we are going to bring Christ’s presence into the world, it will take every last one of us to do it.

Yours faithfully, Evan D. Garner