I most recently saw the noun “benefactor” used in a set of prayers of thanksgiving in place of parishioners or congregants. I thought it a little odd so I did some reading. Dictionary.com lists two definitions. According to the good folks over there at Dictionary.com a benefactor is “a person who confers a benefit; a kindly helper.” I was surprised by that definition as it was not what I was thinking when I saw the word. In that context, I suppose the word is an acceptable moniker for any member of the Anglican Church. All of our baptised confer benefit and most are “kindly helpers.” The masterminds at Dictionary.com do not stop there however. They point out that a benefactor is “a person who makes a bequest or endowment, as to an institution.” This is more what we think of when we hear that word. In that context, I find this word unacceptable for use in naming our congregants as it leaves the impression that our folks are no more than a chequebook. Believe me; the baptised faithful are so much more than “benefactors.”
Having just celebrated the feast of Baptism of Jesus, we have all been reminded that as much as the baptism of Jesus was the beginning of his ministry and as such – his “ordination,” so too our Baptisms are the beginning points of our ministry. If I had to choose Ordination or baptism as the defining moment of my ministry, I would answer immediately “MY BAPTISM!” (As ordinations go, mine was not so great and to cap it all off I was ordained by Don Harvey, then bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador – who knows if it is even valid anymore) It is in baptism that WE ARE ALL CALLED to be present at the table regularly to break bread together. It is in baptism that WE ARE ALL CALLED to seek to be forgiven when we have sinned against another. It is in baptism that WE ARE ALL CALLED to seek and serve Jesus. It is in Baptism that WE ARE ALL CALLED to love neighbour as self. It is in baptism that WE ARE ALL CALLED to strive for peace and justice among all people. It is in baptism that WE ARE ALL CALLED to respect the dignity of every human being. Baptism defines shapes and informs the ministry of the faithful. It is the covenant shared by the priesthood of all believers. I have the greatest example of that in the people of this parish of St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. As priest, I have a role in this parish BUT truthfully the greatest things are accomplished in this parish when we exercise well together our baptismal ministry. I get excited to have such a powerful band of people working shoulder to shoulder with each other. I am privileged to be one among many.
FROM NOMADS TO PILGRIMS is a book of collected stories from “Practicing Congregations.” It’s editors Diana Butler-Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking have studied vital and vibrant congregations from mainline protestant realties across North America. It is a very optimistic book and gives hope to the church that there are pockets of great things happening. In these congregations the word benefactor is not likely to be found in the prayers of the faithful. My feelings about the excitement of coming back to worship here last week after a week away, are well summed up by Eric Elnes of Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ. He writes in From Nomads to Pilgrims,
“I Can hardly wait to get to worship each Sunday morning. I’m like a little kid on Christmas morning waiting for the signal from parents to dash downstairs and open the presents stacked under the tree. I keep thinking the feeling will go away, or at least wane a bit, but it doesn’t. If anything, it gets more intense.
Part of my excitement stems from knowing that most of the people I’ll be joining is worship feel the same way I do. We are all a bit giddy, wondering what gifts worship will bring us. The other reason I’m excited is that I’m as likely to be transformed by the experience as anyone else. I may play a leadership role alongside a number of others, but ultimately I’m a participant in something much greater than any of us is facilitating.”
Returning to worship at St. Mark’s after one week away was like cold water to a dry and aching throat. To Top it all off we had two baptisms which were for us a great reminder of who we are called to be. This photo below courtesy of the Scott and Carlin Miller is a phto of Rhys whose Godparents Dan and Anita wdere represented by Proxy by Catherinanne. He is such a great baby! Thanks o much for including is in this wonderful sacrament!
Worship is increasingly more incarnational. That is to say, the whole liturgy is filled with the presence of God, and we are experiencing God in all elements of the worship. Think music, think, visuals, think message, think prayers, think sacrament, God is there! Our congregation is blessed with many minsters and they all bring great benefit. In that sense I accept that they are benefactors. But the people of God do so much more than offer their financial support, important as that is. The people of God heal, love and forgive. The people of God worship and pray. The people of God have “left their nets” and followed Jesus of Nazareth. Thank God for that offering.