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Download PDF Ian Sloan: “One Order of Ministry: A Proclamation of Abundant Life”

One thing that stands out for me in a comparison of the One Order of Ministry proposal and the 2009 Statement of Ministry and its accompanying Meaning in Ministry report is that the One Order of Ministry proposal looks willing to tackle the issues the 2009 Task Group raised up. The Task Group that reported in 2009 was all for strengthening Presbyteries, even fortifying them so that ordained and commissioned ministers in them could better exercise the freedom they have as the permanent big-picture people of the local church to call out new kinds of ministries and local communities of faith in the rapidly changing social context of The United Church of Canada. With the gift of that freedom, the ordered ministry as well calls into play the wide range of gifts found in a Designated Lay Ministry.  All the people of God build up a new church as the old one unravels.

One of the reasons we are having a remit on the question of One Order is because hitherto we have had two clergy orders: one ordained order, and one commissioned. If we are going to have one ordination order that includes the clergy order of Word and Sacrament and Pastoral Care, the diaconal order of Education and Service and Pastoral Care, and a Designated Lay Ministry, then we are making a change to the Basis of Union Article 17. The Remit we are deciding calls this proposed new ordained ministry a “Ministry of Word, Sacrament, Education, Service and Pastoral Care.” Everyone ordained will be ordained to this Ministry.

The One Order proposal splits the former Lay Pastoral Ministers (LPMs) off from the former staff associates (they were joined together into the Designated Lay Ministry), puts LPMs in the ordained ministry and encourages us to return to calling paid non-ordered lay people Staff Associates. This results in a clarity in which sacramental presidency differentiates all clergy ministry from lay ministry.

There’s a device in Hebrew poetry called parallelism that sometimes gets used to signify abundance: “not three camels, there were four!” is an example.  I made use of this figure with my children in their young years with the expression, “I’m going to give you three, four because I’m a nice guy. One, two, three…(four).” I think there’s an additive quality to piling all these different ministries into ordination, a piling that signifies abundance, and this is pleasing to me.

In the One Order model, however, people will and will not be what we are calling them. There’s a fairly important figure of speech called metaphor which is a figure in which something both is and is not.  In the ecumenical consensus of the 1982 World Council of Church’s Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry statement, the ordination to a diaconate is not an ordination to exercise a local Eucharistic ministry. So how could someone whose calling is to the time-tested and worldwide ministry in the mold of our Ministry of Education and Service and Pastoral Care be ordained to a sacramental ministry? Well, that’s the rub, it appears, since most of our United Church diaconate practices its vocation in callings that are local Eucharistic ministries and we’ve been twisted up in knots for years because that’s not how either the local Eucharistic ministry nor the diaconate have been conceived – by us, or by the ecumene.

Ministers of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care are the majority of the ordered ministry of the Church in pastoral appointment. Using the figures presented in the One Order proposal, about 85% of our pastoral appointments are held by Ministers of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care.

There is a strong appeal in our tradition to protecting a minority gift and practice that sometimes calls for us to accept that which would appear to cancel something else out. Perhaps this Designated Lay Ministry in our ordained ministry would help us safeguard and promote our commitment to the priesthood of the whole people of God. This might seem an unlikely effect since there is no explicit ordination to a Designated Lay Ministry in the proposal before us. But let’s be optimistic about it, and add to it the possibility that a diaconate that is gifted with a sacramental ministry, and a priesthood that is gifted with an educational ministry, will free individuals in our ordered ministry more fully to exercise all their gifts and skills for the building up of Christ’s church.

Ultimately, what’s most significant to me in the proposal is that clarity concerning the presidency of the local Eucharistic ministry is permanently abandoned. We appear to be seeking to repress the identity of sacramental presidency by making the sacramental presidency about as mechanical as it could be, like a watch a watchmaker sets ticking. There’s virtually no formal relationship between the costly love poured out by a crucified Jesus as related in the last supper and the ordering of the local Eucharistic community in this proposal – not that there was much of one before. We may have missed something about the apostolic succession that is not tyrannizing nor hierarchical but suffering and servant-like going down this path.  Or, we have found a way to renovate the ministry of sacramental presidency to make it more suffering and servant-like. I lean toward that.

It is plausible to me that we can live with this one order with its logical contradictions and make it work. As Northrop Frye said, the only word worth proclaiming is a word of abundant life. There are many places and ways this word may call forth and form a witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Ian Sloan serves in ministry with New Vision United Church in Hamilton, and is The United Church of Canada’s elected representative to the Commission on Faith and Witness of the Canadian Council of Churches.