Ordained Ministry from the Local Context

A goal for our future - and that of other Episcopal Churches in the Borders

Another Part of our Story

Priests from the congregation

If you have looked at the form we used for our calling-out process you will have noticed that it was in two parts. The second part invited the members of the congregation to name anyone they thought might have the potential to serve St John's as a priest.

We gave some guidance about how such people could be recognised. They would have gifts that would enable them to 'gather together'; the Christian community and enable it to know or 'name' itself. They would be people capable of:

  • retelling the stories through which the Church can recognise its identity in continuity with its own origins;
  • enabling the Church's members to understand and recognise themselves as Christ's people through the sacrament of Holy Communion;
  • offering the Church community a shared 'language' to understand and express its gospel.

We also made an assumption - that a healthy local church can expect to find within itself all the resources it needs to sustain its own life. That includes appropriate sorts of leadership, one of which is the sacramental ministry offered by priests. A healthy congregation can be expected to be able to recognise those within it who have the gifts to offer such a ministry, though, as with every other ministry, each of those so recognised would also need a corresponding sense of God's calling.

This assumption, which is summarised in Ephesians 4 vv 1-16, underlies the approach which the churches of the New Testament took towards appointing leaders. St Paul repeatedly advised emerging churches to appoint bishops, elders and deacons from among their own membership. It never seems to have occurred to him that they might not be able to find suitable people among the congregation! It was in the spirit of this approach that we invited our congregation to include priestly leadership in the calling-out process at St John's.

Hitting a brick wall

In the event three people who were named as potential priests concluded that they would test their vocation by submitting to the SEC's ordination selection process. Since the Diocese of Edinburgh (in common with the rest of the SEC) had reservations about the idea that people from within a congregation could be ordained to minister within it, these three were evaluated as potentially deployable, non-stipendiary ministers, and none of them were recommended for training.

This was a shock to the congregation, which, nevertheless, reaffirmed its confidence in the three candidates. As we reflected at length on this outcome we began to see that what we were asking for was what might best be described as Ordained Ministry in and from the Local Context. Sadly this wasn't possible because there was no place for it in the policy of the Scottish Episcopal Church at that time. We discovered from the episode that we - and a number of other churches in the Scottish Borders - really need the SEC to recognise the validity of this model of ordained ministry, but we recognise that this will require significant changes of heart and mind on the part of the College of Bishops.

What's this sort of Ordained Ministry all about?

Ordained Ministers from the Local Context would be community priests. Their vocation and ministry would arise within and grow out of the missional community of which they are members because their sacramental identity has been recognised by it. They would be called by it to offer priestly ministry within that community as part of a collaborative pattern of Christian leadership. They would have to be part of a team or group in which several people, lay and ordained, share responsibility for leading and nurturing the community in worship, discipleship and mission. The team would corporately fulfil the various roles traditionally undertaken by a single Rector, distributing functions to its members in accordance with their various gifts and abilities. Ordained Ministers from the Local Context would undertake the sacramental or priestly roles in the community without necessarily being personally responsible for other aspects of the leadership of the congregation, which would be shared by other members of the Team.

This sort of ordained ministry is welcomed in several other parts of the world-wide Anglican Communion, but sadly not in Scotland. In conjunction with other Borders churches, we continue to press for its recognition within the SEC.