Episcopal churches launch ministry team

This article submitted by Reverend Patricia Gillespie on 10/6/99.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Paynesville is stepping out in faith with three other area churches to create a total ministry team to replace the traditional model of one priest, one parish.

The three other churches are Our Saviour's in Little Falls, Good Samaritan in Sauk Centre, and St. John's in St. Cloud. Called "Spirit of the Heartland: Episcopalians in Total Ministry," the cluster of churches has covenanted with each other to work together toward the growth and spiritual renewal of each parish.

The Spirit of the Heartland Total Ministry team, which has been discerned over the past six months by all four parishes, was presented to the congregation at St. Stephen's on Sunday, Sept. 19. The team will be presented to the other parishes on Sundays this fall.

Eleven members comprise the team. Two members are from St. Stephen's, two are from St. John's, three are from Our Saviour's, and four are from Good Samaritan. Members of the team will begin their training and spiritual formation at a two-day retreat in October.

All team members have already begun their educational training through "Education for Ministry," a four-year extension course through the University of the South (Sewanee, Tennessee). The program will also utilize local mentors.

Several other members of St. Stephen's are participating in the Education for Ministry program as well. Depending on their particular position on the team, training will range from two to four years, while spiritual formation will be an ongoing process.

Mentoring and shepherding the development of the team is the Reverend Patricia Gillespie, who currently serves St. Stephen's and two of the other churches on a regular basis. The Reverend Canon Connie Claxton and the Reverend Canon Steve Schaitberger, Canon Missioners, coordinate support and assistance from the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota.

The idea of total ministry is not new. For example, total ministry teams have been operating successfully in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for more than 20 years. There are two successful Episcopalian total ministry teams in Minnesota, one in the Hermantown/ Duluth area and the other in Chatfield.

Total ministry addresses two separate developments among many churches across the country. The laity of many Christian denominations are increasingly ready for more active involvement in the ministry of their church. This movement has been referred to as the "ministry of all the baptized," and focuses on reviving a structure similar to that of the early church, where distinctions between laity and clergy were not nearly as notable as they have become in more recent times.

The second development is the growing number of dwindling congregations, especially in rural areas that can no longer afford to pay a full-time priest or minister.

Total ministry offers a creative response to both of these developments. Total ministry is also called "mutual ministry" or "team ministry."

A total ministry team is made up of various positions to which an individual lay person and their parish agree that they have been called by the Holy Spirit. These positions include such areas as administering the sacraments, preaching, Christian education, outreach and evangelism, pastoral care, crafting of liturgy, administration and coordination, and stewardship of gifts and talents of the church.

Hence, the team assumes the various tasks that have been performed traditionally by paid clergy.

Team members serve in their various ministries on a nonpaid basis as a way of fulfilling their baptismal vows to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. At the same time, church revenues, formerly tied to salaries and benefits, are freed to focus on the actual ministry of the church and its members and to its community.

Total ministry churches are reversing the trend of dwindling congregations. Whether on the actual ministry team or not, members of total ministry congregations are finding many new and exciting ways of sharing their talents with the church. These congregations are growing as they offer lay people the necessary training and support to engage in rewarding opportunities to follow in the footsteps of the earliest mothers and fathers of the church.

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