Bonnie Anderson challenges laity to live into baptismal covenant

August 25, 2008

[Episcopal News Service] Taking seriously the unique promise of the baptismal covenant set the foundation for a series of appearances August 22-24 by Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.


Anderson challenged different groups from throughout the diocese to live out their baptismal covenant, both within their church communities and in the world. At the invitation of the Episcopal Community Services Foundation, Anderson served as the keynote speaker at a conference for social justice advocates and grant seekers. Anderson also met with youth of the diocese in Columbus and preached at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati.

Within the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church is the only province with a baptismal covenant, said Anderson. "Our baptismal covenant brings us to an understanding of the gifts of laity that isn't really understood in the same way by the rest of the communion … [In the Book of Common Prayer] the catechism says that the ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons -- in that order. And so we are called by God to do the work we are given."

Make voices heard
Part of that work is to believe in the power of people in all orders of the church to make a difference, said Anderson. She urged the group of 30 youth and adults gathered at St. Stephen's, Columbus, to express their opinions, to make their voices heard within the church and in their communities.

"Take the authority of your ministry seriously," she said. "Insist that other people take you seriously as well."

Too often, she said, "We give our authority away." Anderson urged the group to dismiss the preconceived, triangle model of ministry, with the bishop at the top and the lay people at the bottom. In reality, she said, ministry is a circle, and lay people should look to clergy and bishops to help -- not tell -- laity how to discern gifts and carry out ministry.

"To be a lay person does not mean you need to do only ministry in the church," she said. "Use your primary vocation -- living for God -- to ground you in your life and in your secondary vocation." Recognizing others' gifts and affirming their ministry is "the perfect example of what it means to be a layperson."

Remember that most of the acts of Christ were performed within the context of a community, said Anderson. "We are called to recognize gifts and affirm gifts," she said. And "we must make decisions and choices every day how to do this."

Build relationships
Part of the responsibility of living in community is building relationships. That may mean connecting with someone who has a different set of beliefs or cultural standards. That may mean, as the Gospel reading for August 24 suggested, that the pursuit of truth is not about the end product of defining truth but about the journey together.

"Does one person, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, have a ‘corner on the truth market?'" asked Anderson in her sermon. "Has one particular group been given the gift of pure truth and the rest of us just can't hear it?

"I don't think so. Right now the how of coming to the truth is as important as getting to the truth. Right now, the way in which the Anglican Communion goes about the search for the elusive truth is as important as the truth itself."

Through relationships characterized by intimacy and vulnerability, "we come to know the truth," said Anderson. The relationships between bishops that were forged and fostered at the Lambeth Conference are an important beginning to this journey for truth. But laity, priests and deacons all must be a part of building relationships and making connections so that the truth of Christ can be made known to the world.

Anderson challenged each group to live into the baptismal covenant.

"Find out about your baptism," she told the youth on Friday evening. "Who was there? What it was like? Find the baptismal certificate, frame it and hang it on the wall.

"Use it to remember who (you) belong to," she said.

"Listen to yourself, trust your insights," Anderson added. "Your primary job is to represent Christ in this world." Her last challenge was, "pray to see the work of God in everything."


-- Richelle Thompson is director of communications, Diocese of Southern Ohio. Julie Murray, Greear Frischmuth and Marjorie Fox contributed to this report.