The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
For the equipment of his people for this total ministry the Lord Jesus Christ gives particular gifts for particular ministries and calls some of his servants to exercise them in offices duly recognised within his Church. The United Reformed Church recognises that Christ gives himself to his Church through Word and Sacrament and through the total caring oversight by which his people grow in faith and love, the exercise of which oversight is the special concern of elders and Ministers. Those who enter on such ministries commit themselves to them for so long as God wills: the United Reformed Church having solemnly acknowledged their vocation and accepted their commitment shall appoint them to their particular ministry and give them authority to exercise it within the church, setting them apart with prayer that they shall be given all needful gifts and graces for its fulfilment, which solemn setting part shall in the case of Ministers and elders be termed ordination and in the case of Church Related Community Workers be termed commissioning. In the United Reformed Church all ministries within the life of the Church shall be open to both men and women. Appropriate affirmations of faith shall be made by those entering upon all ministries within the life of the Church. (20)
‘So do you feel any different?’ was one of the first questions I remember family and friends asking me once we got back to the manse after attending the worship service at which I was ordained as a minister and inducted to my first post. I don’t remember feeling any different and my memory of that day is a bit of a blur.
Reading through this section of the Basis of Union I am struck by the concept of ‘total ministry’. A ministry that no one individual is able to carry or fulfil alone. Each individual has a unique constellation of abilities, interests, and talents; and what’s more all of those are needed for the Church to fully live out its mission and witness. The idea of ‘every member ministry’ is a popular one in many denominations; the idea that everyone has a part to play in living and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the places we live out our lives. As the Church once again shifts its shape this is an important idea to remember and to try to live out.
And yet, the URC is a church that does set people aside in particular ministries. The largest body of ordained people in the URC are the people we name elders. According to the 2020 Year Book there are 8079 serving elders – far more than Ministers. All of these are people who have been called in some way to serve the Church and this has been solemnly recognised through prayer and the giving of authority. We name this solemn setting apart ‘ordination’ for Ministers and elders, and ‘commissioning’ for Church Related Community Workers. Ordination (and Commissioning) is an act of the whole Church and is an act that almost irrevocably changes the relationship an individual has with the Church, with the wider community, and sometimes even with family and friends.
More recently someone asked me what I thought about something ‘not as a Minister’. I found their question impossible to answer. Why? Because I am a Minister. It showed me how ordination means something but doesn’t itself change anyone. Ordination and Commissioning is a form of naming. It points out something already present, sharpened and polished through training and experience identifying who someone is but not changing who they are. Part of our task as Christian people is to continuously be alert to who we are called to be and what are we called to do. This is true for everyone, for the few who are ordained and commissioned, and for everyone else, called to play their part in the total ministry of Christ’s Church.
We will grow together in humility, gentleness and patience; we will nurture each other in faith; we will bear with one another in love; we will make every effort to maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace, so that we may faithfully proclaim the gospel of Christ.
(from the Ordination and Induction of Elders, Worship from the United Reformed Church, 2004)
The Rev’d Sarah Moore is Assistant Clerk of the General Assembly and Transitional Champion for the National Synod of Scotland
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
The Lord Jesus Christ continues his ministry in and through the Church, the whole people of God called and committed to his service and equipped by him for it. This service is given by worship, prayer, proclamation of the Gospel, and Christian witness; by mutual and outgoing care and responsibility; and by obedient discipleship in the whole of daily life, according to the gifts and opportunities given to each one. The preparation and strengthening of its members for such ministry and discipleship shall always be a major concern of the United Reformed Church. (19)
I am particularly drawn to the vision of ‘Jesus continuing his ministry in and through the Church’. Perhaps it would do us good to reflect, at regular intervals, on this truth.
Do we see Jesus continuing his ministry in the churches we are part of? Are there areas of our church life where we most certainly do not? Might the answers to these questions give us enough impetus to change where needed?
The global pandemic has given many areas of our human life a necessary wake-up-call. We have discovered, as we humans do when pushed, that we can indeed change and adapt when it is clear we need to – or when we are left with no choice!
Surely asking ourselves if Jesus’ ministry can be seen in and through our local churches, is just the kind of stimulus we need to stay focused on our ‘worship, prayer, proclamation of the Gospel, Christian witness, care and discipleship in our daily lives’.
As I engaged with this section of the Basis of Union, I heard words from 1 Peter reflected back to me: ‘Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.’
You and I are stewards of God’s grace. We are guardians and enablers of Jesus ministry in the church. Whilst that is a whole lot of responsibility, we are empowered with the unique and glorious gifts that God has given each of us. All of us, in our technicolour variety are important to the flourishing of the church.
In the last sentence of this section, we are reminded and encouraged as a denomination, to build-up, cherish and embrace the amazing array of gifts that we each possess: gifts that God has given so that we can indeed continue the ministry of Christ.
There is real excitement and creative hope in these words.
Take a moment to look inward: to seek and know what amazing and unique God-given gift you can bring to the ministry of the church.
Ever-creating God, we pray that we may find and own the gifts you have given us. We pray that, once found, we may be brave to use them, even if they are surprising and unappreciated. We pray that we will continue to build each other up and to recognise the gifts of others as we are church together. Make us brave to continue the ministry of Jesus and creative when change is needed to follow him more closely. Call us again and inspire us through your Spirit, we pray. Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC)