Next week is what we at St Paul’s call Consecration Sunday. It is the culmination of our annual and primary fundraising effort as we prepare for another year of life and ministry together.
We need your financial support. There. I said it, and even from the pulpit. I ask your prayerful and thoughtful consideration of the financial needs of this fine parish of St Paul’s.
Stewardship is a touchy subject, or so it seems to many. Stewardship is often equated with fundraising. But fundraising is a very small part of true stewardship.
I could wax perhaps eloquent of the depths and nuances of being a steward of all of God’s resources in our lives but, instead, I want to call your attention to a part of our worship that we engage every week. It is a powerful and meaningful expression of the breadth of stewardship.
For many centuries the Church has held a Latin phrase as an expression of the connection between praying and living our lives of faith.
Lex Orandi Lex Credendi was coined by a student of St. Augustine in the fifth century, a gentleman named Prosper. The best working English translation is Praying Shapes Believing. How we pray, the words we use, informs and forms what we believe.
Each week, at the end of the Prayers of the People, we join our voices in a prayer of mission and ministry. I do not know the origins of this prayer.
I know it is peculiar to St Paul’s; I have never heard it used anywhere else. I suspect someone within this parish wrote it. It is a great statement of stewardship. I want to offer a bit of commentary on this fine prayer:
“Raise up in our midst the resources and leadership
which will enable us to act upon what you would have
In our midst: From among us. From within us. We correctly seek God’s actions not from some outside source but from within this gathering. This wisely recognizes that the gifts within this room are enough for the needs of this parish and its ministries.
“…In this place and in a ministry of love and concern for others.”
In this place: There are ministries within these walls. There are ministries that seek to nourish our own and feed our own.
Consider this: on an average Sunday there are 20 or more people ministering so that we can worship together. Choir, Sunday School, Ushers, those serving on the altar and others. That feeds us each in this place. We seek to feed those who are not with us. Visitors who take the sacraments to shut-ins, the Prayer team who covers our parish in prayer, hospital visitors, those who follow up connecting with visitors and newcomers. All of these are ministers in this place.
In a ministry of love and concern for others: God never calls us to set our sights on ourselves alone. God seeks to minister to others through us.
As I wrote these words in my office yesterday there were outside almost two dozen people welcoming, serving and ministering to those who visited our Farmer’s Market.
Those who chose to shop here saw living and moving examples of Christ’ love and our faithfulness. These are examples of stewardship. But there is one part of our prayer that always strikes me. When I first encountered this prayer it struck me because of its grammatical peculiarity.
In our common worship we almost exclusively pray in the first person plural using words like we and us and our. Even in such a personal prayer as our Confession we pray as a group.
But the last sentence of our prayer for our ministries changes abruptly to the first person singular.
“Open my mind and heart to discern what you would have me do…”, we pray.
The change is abrupt and it is powerful. It is in many ways a challenge, a call for action. Within our prayer we are acknowledging that each of us has a role, a ministry to offer God, to return to God for God’s work in the world and within St Paul’s.
Years ago, a priest friend of mine was telling me of a lunch he had with a minister from a prominent Baptist church in his town. The minister was quite proud of the size of his congregation and bragged about how many staff members he had to tend to the needs of his parish. He listed the ministers on staff saying that there were 20 ministers at his church.
The priest replied, “Twenty? Is that all? I have more than 300.”
The minister was stunned. “Three hundred ministers?” He replied.
“Sure,” the priest continued, “every member of my church is a minister.”
Open your Prayer Books to page 855. Go ahead I’ll wait. Find the heading that says, “The Ministry” Let’s all read those first two lines in unison, just like we pray in unison.
Who are the ministers of the Church?
The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops,
priest and deacons.
Notice the hierarchy. Who are the primary ministers of the Church? Lay persons, all but two people in this room. That is why I love that abrupt change
in our prayer.
You are the primary ministers of the Church. Every week we pray for our parish in unison. We pray for our mission and ministry. Make no mistake, it is a stewardship prayer, plain and simple. In fact, it is one of the finest statements of stewardship I have ever read.
Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: Praying shapes believing. St Paul’s needs your financial support. That is true. But God needs your ministerial support. For some peculiar reason an omnipotent God who can accomplish anything without us more often than not chooses to accomplish nothing without us.
Open my mind and heart to discern what you would have me do, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
©2019, Tom Thoeni