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Paynesville Press - October 9,2002

Episcopal churches switch to team ministry

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Paynesville Doris Dodds and Harriette Burkhalter, members of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (pictured at right) in Paynesville, were commissioned as church leaders on Sunday, Oct. 6. They are now part of the Spirit of the Heartland's total ministry team.

Spirit of the Heartland – a group of three churches, St. Stephen's in Paynesville, Our Saviour's in Little Falls, and Good Samaritan in Sauk Centre – has turned to total ministry, a unique program in which all of the baptized act as ministers, to help offset the need for seminary-ordained priests since they, like many small churches, can no longer afford a full-time priest.

The idea behind total ministry is that instead of having one seminary-ordained priest, each congregation member of the church serves in a role of the priest. For instance, one person will perform the role of sacramentalist, another will do counseling, another will do the liturgy, and yet another person will be ordained to preach.

The locally-ordained priests will be volunteers and will be able to perform weddings and baptisms in their local churches, in this case, the three churches that make up the Spirit of the Heartland.

According to Dodds, membership at St. Stephens, which was established in 1889 and is the oldest church in Paynesville, has dwindled in recent years, and without a full-time priest, some Sunday services were simply lay-led prayer services. Soon, parishoners at St. Stephen's will be able to attend services led by various members of the total ministry team every Sunday.

Dodds, along with the rest of the 11-member team, has spent three years training for her role as sacramentalist. On Sunday, she was commissioned as a member of the total ministry team in a ceremony at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Little Falls.

In six months, she should be ordained as a deacon who performs clerical duties to assist a priest. Six months after that – when she completes her schooling – she should be ordained as a priest.

Burkhalter, who spends her summers here and winters in Arizona, is a lay member of the team. Her ministry is outreach and evangelism. She will be directly involved with the ministry while she is here and will keep in touch with other team members via e-mail while she is gone.

Team members are nominated or called by members of their congregations and go through a period of prayer and contemplation before agreeing to become a part of the team. Even after they agree, each person must go through a long approval process before they can begin their education for the ministry, said Rev. Pat Gillespie, the priest who is in charge of St. Stephen's.

Dobbs, for instance, was called for several years before she finally answered, she said. "Everyone has a ministry," said Dodds. "They may have a talent they just haven't recognized yet."

Rev. Gillespie's role in the total ministry is that of mentor. Although she will still act as priest on a part-time basis, most of her duties will be turned over to the total ministry team.

The total ministry idea comes from scripture. In the early church, the apostles all acted as ministers. "Now we're getting back to our roots," said Gillespie. "By our baptism we're all called to do God's work."

There will be a homecoming to celebrate the total ministry team at St. Stephen's on Sunday, Oct. 27. Rev. Randy Wesland, a newly ordained priest and a member of the team will celebrate the eucharist, and Rev. Pat Gillespie will preach at the service at 9 a.m. Refreshments will be served after the service.

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