Teaching: Living Stones helps participants learn about ministry development

February 27, 2007

Engaging one another's "Baptismal Ministry Reports" was at the center of the agenda when Living Stones partners gathered in Spokane, Washington, February 17-20. "Most of us usually just race forward with ministry," commented Liz Magill of the Pastoral Excellence Project at Episcopal Divinity School, keynoter for the annual meeting. "There is much more reflection in the reports prepared and in the first few hours of this meeting." Clusters of four member delegations worked together to listen, question and reflect on the issues and opportunities brought to the table. Reports explored structural, cultural, and systemic change; developing congregation, team and individual competence in ministry, as well as developing the ministry professionals who can lead such efforts; new formats and technologies for baptismal ministry formation; and patterns of continuing support and education for congregations which have changed their vision and practice of ministry. Living Stones is comprised of 17 U.S. partner dioceses, two Canadian partner dioceses, the Anglican parishes of the Central Interior, the Community of the Holy Spirit and Episcopal Divinity School. Visitors this year represented the council of seminary deans of the Episcopal Church, staffs of both the Anglican Church of Canada's national office and the Episcopal Church Center, the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, and five other North American dioceses. Fran Gardner, missioner intern in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, said she enjoyed hearing stories of ministry development in contexts other than the one she knows best. "Dioceses doing ministry development aren't cookie cutters," she said. Margaret Babcock, Canon for Ministry and Congregational Development in the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, echoed that sentiment. "Mutual ministry is not a thing that you learn, it's a thing that you live," she said. "So every time you are in a new group, you need to learn where they are on the journey. Living Stones keeps that fresh in my mind." Babcock, who in 2006 resigned as Canon for Congregational Development in the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho to take up her new work, serves as a Living Stones coordinator. Coordinators represent the dioceses and other communities of faith that constitute Living Stones, forming a group which fills both board and meeting planning roles for the partnership. Holladay Sanderson, coordinator for the host diocese, Spokane, organized the local hospitality for this year's gathering. Gardner, experiencing her first Living Stones meeting, reflected on the challenge of "like everything else in the church" of getting a sense of what's going on, "the traditions, unspoken norms, vocabulary." Partners use a variety of terms to refer to their ministry-development programs, including total, mutual and shared ministry, but all agree that Christian ministry is rooted in the covenant of baptism. A few days into the meeting most participants, even those who had been many times before, were "coping with the overload of information." This may be unavoidable in a true peer consultation in ministry development. "It really is a gathering of experts, a way we all walk together in this journey of honoring and uplifting baptismal ministry," said Bishop Wendell N. Gibbs of Michigan, who has attended many Living Stones meetings. "It's where the church needs to be." While some have seen the work of Living Stones dioceses as only appropriate for small, rural congregations, Gibbs points out that "one of our strongest congregations is in the city of Detroit." "Church of the Messiah has had an absolute renaissance in their service to the community. We have been able to lift up what they are doing through the concept of baptismal ministry. Folks from the more traditional model are beginning to look to them for answers." Caryn Douglas of Winnipeg, principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, an Anglican/United Church theological school for those who have discerned diaconal ministry, served as evaluator for the meeting along with Eric Heidecker, teacher and consultant in ministry development from Reno, Nevada. "The most stimulating idea, what has really caught my imagination," Douglas said toward the end of the meeting, "is what it means to have a focus on baptism as the sacrament that defines church. When you think of sacramental ministry and theology, most Anglicans go straight to eucharist. What does it mean really to have baptismal theology as the foundation?" Douglas, a diaconal minister herself, sees a part of her commitment to ministry challenging "the pattern of spectator church which has dominated our times." She mentioned that in 2006 in Winnipeg, both when she attended as a visitor, and at this year's meeting, "it's good to be in the midst of a group who are saying clericalism is a problem, and things need to be changed." Wallace Johnson, chancellor of the Diocese of Wyoming, attending the meeting for the first time, said that "one of the things I enjoy is seeing how Living Stones is pushing at the edge of convention in the church." Bishop J. Michael Garrison of Western New York has been involved with Living Stones since it began when a small retreat center in southern Nevada could house the group. Church consultants Charles R. and Lynne Wilson founded the collaborative effort in the early '90s with eight North American dioceses spanning five time zones. Garrison says the "community of learning and encouragement" keeps him coming back.

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