Is find myself annoyed at the commonly used term of Christians "going into the ministry." My annoyance arose from the reports I read yesterday of our local assistant bishop who is "retiring from the ministry." Bishop Frank is a lovely man and when I was re-accepted into membership of the Church of England four years ago I was happy that he was the man at the front doing the accepting. I wish him well in his retirement. And yet, I found myself getting more annoyed and the phrase got stuck under the surface of my brain.
My annoyance is this: It isn't THE ministry at all.
It's A ministry. One of many.
Every Christian has a ministry to go into, in which they should minister as Christ in this world, light bearers to others. Every Christian will have their own ministry.
Being an ordained priest is certainly a form of ministry but to refer to it as "the ministry" is unfortunate. If it is THE ministry then this automatically relegates the lives of all laity from being Christian ministry. It posits a system in which some people's service of their God is more important and better than the service most people give their God.
And although I'm sure most people don't mean to do it, by calling an ordained hierarchy THE ministry they linguistically make the service of Christ, ministry to the earth and all who dwell upon it, to be a second class service.
All Christians should be in ministry. All should be ministers. And though the form of ministry may vary widely, they should all minister love.
In fact I believe that - although non-Christians may use different language and may not centre their lives upon the life and way of Jesus - all people should be in minstry and minister love:
If Christ is the light of the world then all people should seek to be Christ-bearers.
If God is love then all people should seek to be reflections of love.
If the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of creativity, of reconciliation, of transformation, if the Spirit is the encouraging paraclete and the model of faithfulness then all people should seek to be Spirit bearers and speak the words of the Spirit.
If the life of the Spirit is wonder and awe, service and excitement, rejoicing and mourning with others, and living the fullest lives possible then all people should seek that way of being.
If the Gospel is of hope and peace, if it is good news, then all people should preach and live it.
That's what the ministry is. Not gaining a dog collar and a place in a hierarchy. The ministry is to follow the commandment of Jesus to love one another.
The ministry is for all of us. Christians. Non-Christians. Even anti-Christians. All of us, preachers. All of us, examples.
That includes me. And I, like all of us, sometimes am a good minister and sometimes (often!) fall short.
I am not a Christian right now. [Although I think a few people would disagree with that statement.] I am not a theist right now. But I want to grow in ministry. I want to be a Christ-bearer. I want to preach that Gospel in word and deed - and in silence too. I want to walk in the wholeness of God and fullness of being which is love.
Please bear with me while I keep getting it wrong and keep exploring to find out what my ministry might be and might become outside of believing the old, old story, outside of dogma and doctrine, and outside what most people would recognise as Christianity. Please bear with me as I learn to walk in the wholeness of God while not believing in a God.
Yes. Please be patient. This woman is going into ministry!
As for Bishop Frank: He may no longer be a bishop of the Church of England. But I don't believe he is retiring from the ministry. Those reports were erroneous. He's just retiring from a form of ministry he happened to have. He'll still be in ministry. It'll just be a different form of ministry.