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By Rev. Canon Grayhame Bowcott 

We all know how the story goes:

A faithful member of the Church serves in a ministry role for many years. In that role there is lots of work to be done, and sometimes the work is emotional or frustrating. And, when finally someone relieves the person of the position, that ministry volunteer takes a step back. In stepping back, the person withdraws from various ministry routines, might suddenly be absent from regular patterns of worship, and, one day, stops showing up at all.

Do you know someone like this? Does this story describe you?

One of the most important truths about our Anglican congregations today, one that isn’t celebrated enough (in my opinion), is the reality that our worshipping communities are only as strong as the lay leadership that maintains them.

It is through the faithful efforts of lay readers, wardens, parish administrators and secretaries, treasurers, sextons, choristers and music directors, pastoral visitors and prayer groups, committee chairs, parish council members and our small armies of volunteers that drive the life blood of a healthy congregation or parish. Even the smallest of churches is a complex network of personalities and relational connections.

There are many different reasons why people choose to carve out space in their busy lives and schedules to serve in a ministry of the Church. For some, it is the sense of belonging to a larger community, of being part of a family of faith that gives them purpose and identity; for others it is the social relationships, the opportunities to work alongside their friends while caring for others too.

Among our many volunteers, there are also those who don’t take much joy from what they are doing anymore. Perhaps there was a time when they were excited about their role, but something changes for them. If ever ministry starts looking like a long list of chores or obligations and there isn’t any spiritual benefit to doing them, perhaps that is the time when ministry stops being ministry.

As Anglican congregations in the Diocese of Huron transition into our post-Christmas season of Vestries, Wardens’ meetings, and the challenges around budgeting and staffing our various expressions of ministry, one of the things that we must always keep in mind is that ministry is always supposed to be an expression of our vocational calling – not a list of chores of obligations.

In my congregation there is an open policy that goes like this: if, at any time, anyone is no longer enjoying their ministry role (appointed, elected or otherwise), they always have my support and permission to stop doing it. Permission to lay it down. Why? Because God calls us to serve in ways that are lifegiving and meaningful. If ever our ministries stop being this for us, then we may be doing them wrong. We may be missing the point.

As we enter into this new calendar year, I invite you to consider the things that your offer to God and others in service – your own expression of ministry. Are you passionate about what you are doing? Is your ministry role spiritual and lifegiving? If not, perhaps it may be time for you to have a conversation with your priest about finding the right ‘fit’ for your service.

Frederick Buechner, an American theologian, summed it up in this way: “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s (or neighbourhood’s) deep hunger meet.”

As we enter this new year, I pray that we all find ourselves in the place of our vocation, in the place where we are passionate to serve God, Church and others. 

Rev. Canon Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as Rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains and as Program Director for the Licentiate in Theology program at Huron University.