Here I Am

Here I Am

Worship with Rev. Heather Burton

This weekend is what used to be called Conference Weekend. Once a year across Canada United Church clergy and elected lay delegates gathered for the Annual Meeting of Conference, when we still had Conferences and Presbyteries. It’s now called the Regional Annual General Meeting, since we in British Columbia are part the Pacific Mountain Region. Despite the name change, the purpose and shape of the meeting remain similar. First, the AGM, as the name suggests, busies itself with the work, vision and direction of the region, just as a congregational annual meeting is concerned with the work, vision and direction of the congregation.
Delegates have been together at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in Vancouver since Thursday. They’ve been considering petitions, hearing reports and listening to speakers and guests. Yesterday, the meeting ended – but the gathering did not. There is a recognition and celebration service that happens today… in fact, it’s starting just about now. It is the responsibility of the regional level of church governance, as it was formerly the responsibility of the conferences to receive candidates into formal ministry leadership.
Candidates for ordination are people who, like Samuel in this morning’s story, have heard God’s call, have had that call tested and confirmed through the wider church, and who have supported that call with appropriate education and experience.
27 years ago yesterday (June 1, 1997), I heard that same reading spoken and acted out by our former Moderator, Sang Chul Lee, and a little boy playing the part of Samuel, at my own ordination by Toronto Conference. We also sang “I, The Lord of Sea and Sky”, which brought me to tears. I find the song and the story as moving today as I did then. Seven years after my ordination, I had the amazing honour and privilege, as President of Toronto Conference, of ordaining the candidates who were presenting themselves at that ordination service.
The call to formal ministry has had many paths through the history of The United Church, two of which, up to this point at least, have been called “Ordered Ministry”, in the same sense as taking Holy Orders, or receiving the power and grace to perform sacred duties. The rite of ordination, which involves prayers and laying on of hands, is the way through which the Church bestows that power and grace.
The two historical streams of ordered ministry in our church are “Ordained” and “Diaconal”. Both have very ancient Church roots. Although these two streams have different educational components and foci, in the reality of church life, both ordained and diaconal ministers often take the same roles.
Ordained ministers serve in all aspects of ministry but are formally called to a ministry of “word, sacrament, and pastoral care”. This involves presiding in worship and at sacraments, nurturing and strengthening the Body of Christ, making the wisdom of the ages relevant for today, and being representatives of Christ in the world in seeking justice and wholeness for all creation. In the United Church, there are approximately 3,500 ordained ministers.
Diaconal ministers also serve in all aspects of ministry but are formally called to a ministry of education, service, social justice, and pastoral care. Diaconal ministry, rooted in the tradition and history of the diakonia (which means ministry in Greek) “encourages a growing faith, speaks truth to power, seeks mutual empowerment, proclaims prophetic hope, nurtures life-giving community, fosters peaceful, right relationships” among other things that are outlined in its Statement of Vision. There are approximately 300 diaconal ministers in the United Church.
This year’s ordination service, taking place in the various regions of The United Church, finds itself broadening the welcome into ordination, following a change passed last year at the meeting of the General Council, our national decision-making body. Ordinands now include Designated Lay Ministers who have taken the DLM training at an accredited school, have been in active, paid accountable ministry appointments of at least ½-time for at least 5 years, and who have discerned a call to ask for ordination.
The Lay Pastoral Ministry stream, now called the Designated Lay Ministry stream, has been in existence within our Church for more than 30 years.
Designated lay ministers (DLMs) are lay ministers, recognized by a regional council and accountable to the Office of Vocation of the national church, who accept a leadership role for defined periods of time for defined forms of service. Leadership roles may include the work of preaching, worship, sacrament, pastoral care, education, or other forms of service. Designated lay ministers apply to their region for a licence to administer the sacraments if it is part of their ministry. This role is by appointment. There are approximately 200 designated lay ministers in the United Church.

Hearing God’s call and responding with “Here I am” does not necessarily lead to formal ministry as we understand it… nor should it. We in The United Church are part of what’s called the “Reformed tradition.” The name reminds us that our ancestors in the faith were born out of the Reformation of the 16th century, a tradition that lifts up the priesthood of all believers. That understanding was reiterated in the Statement on Ministry, developed for the 2012 General Council. It says, in part:
“The United Church of Canada upholds a vision that all believers are called to participate in the healing of creation. This ministry may be lived out in many ways, from being a disciple who is actively involved in God’s mission in the world, to being in a leadership role as ministry personnel.

A Song of Faith (2006) also gives voice to what we believe and echoes the sentiments of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
“We are each given particular gifts of the Spirit.
For the sake of the world,
God calls all followers of Jesus to Christian ministry.
In the church,
some are called to specific ministries of leadership,
both lay and ordered;
some witness to the good news;
some uphold the art of worship;
some comfort the grieving and guide the wandering;
some build up the community of wisdom;
some stand with the oppressed and work for justice.
To embody God’s love in the world,
the work of the church requires the ministry and discipleship
of all believers.”

God’s sometimes whispering voice calls to each of us to be a supportive part of the Body of Christ in different ways, using the myriad gifts God has given us. We are encouraged, like Samuel, to recognize God’s call and to respond.


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