World Council of Churches

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Response by Robyn Brown

The Vocation of the Laity in Church and World: Towards an Inclusive Community on Different Levels" - a response by by Robyn Brown to the paper "Formation of the Laos".

10 May 1997

Le Cénacle, Geneva, 7-10 May 1997

Response by Robyn Brown to the paper "Formation of the Laos"

My first word is one of appreciation to Godlind for this paper. As a person who works from a more pragmatic base I am thankful that there are those who provide this part of the overall picture. I also appreciate the risk one takes in being the presenter who then must listen as the respondents use the work as a springboard for their own views!

Secondly, a word about myself and the context which has shaped my understanding of' the Laos and formation. As I skim read this paper when it arrived off the fax, my eyes were quickly drawn to the reference to the work done at Evanston in 1954. I was just six years old then, so why should this date and place have significance for me? My father, a Methodist Presbyter, attended that event and therefore was part of that decision making process. He died almost four years ago so I have been unable to ask his opinion on the matter. However, I do know that his thinking has had a tremendous influence on my own. I grew up in Aotearoa New Zealand in a Pakeha family with three sisters, clearly knowing these things:

    • Girls can do anything (after all there were no brothers to chop the wood and mow the lawns).

    • The church can be a caring community and also very demanding of people's time and energy.

    • That the clergy are ordinary human beings.

    • That lay people have just as significant a place in the church as the clergy.

    These beliefs or 'knowings' have guided my life and work both within the church and the wider community. I have always regarded what I have done as ministry and seen myself as working with, not for the ordained.

    The Mission Statement which guides the life of Te Haahi Weteriana 0 Aotearoa, the Methodist Church of New Zealand has affirmed these understandings and I include the whole Mission Statement here for your information, but highlight just one or two points at this time.

    Mission statement

    Our Church's mission in Aotearoa/New Zealand is to reflect and proclaim the transforming love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and declared in the Scriptures. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve God in the world. The Treaty of Waitangi is the covenant establishing our nation on the basis of a power-sharing partnership and will guide how we undertake mission.

    In seeking to carry out our mission, we will work according to these principles:

    Christian community: To be a worshipping, praying and growing community, sharing and developing our faith, and working through its implications in our social context.

    Evangelism:
    To challenge people to commitment to Christ and Christ's way.

    Flexibility:
    To be flexible, creative and open to God's Spirit in a changing world and Church, so that the Church is relevant to people's needs.

    To release energy for mission rather than to absorb energy for maintenance.

    Church unity:
    To foster networks and relationships with communities of faith having similar goals.

    Inclusiveness:
    To operate as a Church in ways which will enable the diversity of the people (e.g. all ages, all cultures, female and male) to participate fully in the whole life of the Church, especially decision-making and worship.

    Every member a minister:
    To encourage each person to develop his/her full potential by accepting and nurturing each other, developing skills and providing resources, challenging and enabling for service in the Church and community.

    Cross-cultural awareness:
    To become aware of, and challenged by each other's cultures.

    Justice:
    To work for justice for any who are oppressed in Aotearoa/New Zealand, keeping in mind the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi.

    To share resources with the poor and disadvantaged in Aotearoa/New Zealand and beyond.

    Peace:
    To be peacemakers between people and in the world.

    Healing:
    To listen for hurt and work for healing.

    Ecology:
    To care for creation.

    Now back to the paper prepared by Godlind. It is not my intention to critique this paper point by point or definition by definition. I would not presume to have the expertise to do so. It is my intention to take what I see as some of the issues for us in Aotearoa and to offer comment from my own experience and what I know of the understandings of different sections of the Methodist church in New Zealand. However let me hasten to add that I cannot possibly hope to fully represent the diversity of thinking that is the reality of the church at the present time. My viewpoint is expressed from my experience as a woman who chooses to be not ordained. A person on the faculty of Trinity Methodist Theological College whose responsibility is for lay ministry education and training throughout the Connexion. As one whose professional training is in the educational field, most recently in adult education, and as a member of the Faith and Order Committee of our church which is currently involved in preparing a paper for discussion in our synods and parishes on the understandings of the Mission Statement Principle which I quoted to you earlier "Every Member a Minister" (see page 2)

    I look to Part I of the paper: Being transformed into the image.

    1.2 Laos - the people of God
    Again, thank you for your work and particularly for the way you have articulated your understandings in Part I of your paper. I have only two comments that I would want to put alongside those you have made in this section. While the understanding of the Laos you have laid out is one with which some of our people would identify, others of us would want to say that the Laos are the whole people of God; all the people of the inhabited earth, and that the Gospel message is that. we are a redeemed people. We do not earn this status of 'the chosen' because of what we believe or what we do, but by grace. Grace which is available to all.

    1.4 Charasmata, gifts by grace
    Here to underline the importance of this understanding of the giftedness of each person. Another way of expressing this may be to say that rather than each person having particular gifts, talents, skills, knowledge to offer, it is the task of the faith community to enable each person to discover how they can offer themselves as gift in the whole of their daily life. This includes their talents and skills and all they have learned out of the joy and pain of their own experience of living. This is the task of formation for ministry -- both lay and ordained.

    Miroslav Volf has written a very scholarly and interesting book on the theology of work in which he looks at the idea of work as gift rather than vocation.

    2. Modern Societies and the churches
    It is important here for you to know the wider context in which we in Aotearoa New Zealand live. We are a small island nation of three and a half million people made up of many different races; the indigenous people being Maori. A nation in which approximately 9-10% attend church regularly. From this data you will understand the critical nature of this question for us. We would choose to speak of Church in Society, rather than Church and Society thereby recognising the interconnectedness of the two and the impact that one has on the other. We would also want to acknowledge the division within church as well as within society; division into winners and losers, men and women, rich and poor, Maori and Tauiwi, lay and clergy.

    3. Laos - clergy and laity together
    I found much within this part of your paper that we would want to say Amen to. Yes, many of us have a great sense of frustration knowing that this matter of clergy and lay has been on the agenda of the church for so long with little evidence of real change.

    Within Te Haahi Weteriana 0 Aotearoa, we have, as briefly indicated earlier, two partners; Taha Maori (the indigenous people of Aotearoa/ New Zealand) and Tauiwi (made up of all the people who have come to Aotearoa since the Maori). Taha Maori have taken responsibility for their own ministry formation and theological education. This decision came out of a realisation that the model of theological education and ministry formation being offered through Trinity Theological College did not fit the theological understandings of Te Taha Maori, nor did it equip their people to work in rural and marae settings. The educational model (academic), the language, way of dressing and model of church that was portrayed, disempowered, rather than empowered their people for ministry. They have chosen to not ordain any of their ministers (minita-iwi) but rather to identify people according to role or function. Each year a number of their people are given authority by our Annual Conference to administer the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. This form of ministry arises out of their belief that every member is a minister and all are called by God to exercise ministry according to the particular skills, talents and knowledge they have to offer as gift; that by ordaining some, others are disempowered. There are members of Tauiwi who would wish us to follow the same path. Certainly there is much debate about which model of education is the most appropriate. This debate is about the issues of empowerment and equity. For some, the conclusion would be, as for Te Taha Maori, that the true empowerment of the laity, and indeed the whole laos is not possible while we continue to ordain some (for a second time as baptism is recognised as ordination to the ministry of the universal church) and not others. Another section of the church would want to maintain the status quo, while yet another group would suggest that with the 'right' education and training empowerment of both clergy and lay is possible.

    Let me share with you some of my findings from research I undertook in 1995 on 'Empowering the Laity within the Methodist Church of New Zealatid Te Haahi Weteriana 0 Aotearoa':

      • The basic assumptions that I began with were: that empowerment involves the development, growth and maturation of real gifts, talents and aptitudes and recognises each person as having equal status, responsibility and rights in decision making;

      • that community is central to what it means to be Christian;

      • that the church or faith community is the centre from which Christian witness and service arises not the centre of that witness and service;

      • that both lay and ordained have an equal part to play in the life, witness and service of the faith community; each having a different yet complimentary role.

    I set out this profile of an empowered lay person; (In compiling this profile I acknowledge that much of it has been adapted from the work of Margaret Hall, Women and Empowerment 1992).

    Empowered lay persons live and act out of an understanding of equal mindedness. They do not aim to be superior to the clergy or to merely confront and challenge their dominance. They respond as equals and cooperate to work toward the common good.

    Empowered lay persons use their talents and gifts to live fulfilling lives. They understand that they have a contribution to ministry which is uniquely theirs in which they utilise their particular gifts or talents for the enrichment of others. Their contribution to ministry may be exercised in different places and settings at different times. It may be exercised within the church and/or the wider community. It may be part of their paid employment or something which they do separate from that.

    Empowered lay persons are aware of their own uniqueness and, at the same time, of their collective belonging with all members of the faith community and the wider community in which they live. They know that their own well being can only be viewed and understood with reference to the well being of all. They cannot be empowered at the expense of others -- lay or clergy -- members of the church or not.

    Empowered lay persons do not retreat from traditional responsibilities of family, church or work. They choose ways of doing things that strengthen rather than debilitate them, but which are also advantageous to others.

    Empowered lay persons formulate their beliefs and define their values themselves. They are not dependent on the clergy for their sense of being, their beliefs or their understanding of faith.

    Empowered lay persons strengthen themselves by working in partnership with other lay persons and clergy. They sustain their own distinctive vision of church and community from which their actions flow. This definition could well be applied as a definition of an empowered Laos and not just laity.

    The data for this research was gathered through a questionnaire and interviews. A brief summary of the main findings follows:

      • The empowerment of the laity, is part of an ongoing gradual process which began thirty five to forty years ago.

      • Individual empowerment does not automatically lead to the empowerment of the group but the empowerment of the group cannot happen without the empowerment of individuals within it. (It was interesting to note that the empowernent of the individual most often occurred outside of the church).

      • The style of leadership is crucial to the empowerment process and determines the impact that all the activities of the church has on each individual and the community as a whole.

      • The decision-making structures are a determining factor in the empowerment of the laity.

      • Empowerment is a process, with each of the above factors impacting one on the other. It is not a 'model' that can be simply transplanted from one congregation or parish to another.

    I noted this in the Conclusion -- in my introduction I said "I approach this project with a degree of excitement and anticipation tempered by some feeling of frustration. Frustration rekindled by the reading I have undertaken during my literature review. rustration born out of the renewed realisation of how little progress has been made in this area of the liberation or empowerment of the laity despite the number of words that have been written and uttered." I have now added a further 10,000 words to that number, and I reach this point in the process with much the same feeling, but for slightly different reasons. Now a feeling of excitement because of the stories of empowerment that I have been privileged to listen to, anticipation for I know that changes can occur, frustration that they have taken so long in this parish and have not even begun in many more.

    As I looked back to the 'profile' of a lay person who has been empowered to engage in the tasks of ministry, both within the faith community and the wider community of which they are a part, it was clear that the empowerment process began with the individual. This belief was born out in the stories people shared during the interviews. Margaret Hall in her book Women and Empowerment (1992) makes the point that empowerment does not mean that one can no longer participate in the traditional responsibilities of family, church or work, rather it means that one chooses to do so in a way that strengthens one's sense of self worth and value. It is out of this strength then that one is then able to work in a way which is also empowering to others. Modelling by the ordained Presbyter (Minister) was obviously the most important factor in this process. An intentional educational process also contributed. Participation in experiential educational opportunities was noted as life changing and the Church needs to take heed to the call, to ensure that a balance of both experiential and academic styles of learning are provided in all its educational opportunities for both lay and ordained.

    Let me conclude my comments today by saying that it is out of this sense of personal empowerment that the individual is able to claim his/her their own identity as a lay person, not simply by becoming clericalised as has often been the case. Ann Rowthorn suggested that too often we have seen a clericalised laity - laity turned inward - absorbed by the Church while neglecting the outward service of church in society' (Rowthorn 1986)

    Obviously ministry formation or 'equipping the laity' occurs at many different levels in many different ways. Questions such as whether there is a difference between Christian Witness and Christian Ministry and therefore a difference in the way the formation must occur could be addressed, but there is not time. We would propose that ministry is a deliberate community-sanctioned activity, sustained by the spirit and the prayer filled energy of the congregation. Any formation for either lay or ordained must also be a deliberate community-sanctioned activity sustained by the spirit and the prayer-filled energy of the church. Whatever model is used, empowerment must be the result. As the members of our Faith and Order Committee continue to address the matters of Church, Ministry and Sacraments we are aware that to try to speak of one without reference to another is not possible. So too with this issue of the laos and formation. Effective formation cannot be achieved without us first being clear about the model of church in society we are wanting to service. Ministry ordained and not ordained (and therefore formation) belongs to the whole people of God. It is not my ministry or your ministry, but rather our contribution to the ministry and mission of the church universal through the community of faith. Ministry is all that a person intentionally is and does in response to the vision of what it is to be Christian. Ministry is tested and affirmed by the community of faith and offered on behalf of that community.

    References:

      • Hall, C. Margaret, Women and Empowerment. (Washington: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation, 1992)
      • Rawthorn, Anne, The Liberation of the Laity. (Wilton: Morchouse-Barlow, 1986)
      • Volf, Miroslav, Work in the Spirit (Oxford University Press, 1991)
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