The Lay Incumbent
Last month Jeff Donnelly wrote the first of two excellent articles on the Locally Trained Priest (LTP) ministry. This has definitely been one of the major changes in the church in the last few decades, and one way in which our diocese is leading the Anglican Church in Canada. Without LTPs the Anglican church in the West Kootenay particularly would really have been struggling. LTPs have been a real blessing during my time here.
Today I want to highlight another, equally visionary, type of ministry. This one has emerged in the last 18 months in this diocese, although the person concerned has been exercising this type of ministry for over 10 years in other dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada.
In fall 2020, in the midst of Covid, Bishop Lynne appointed Andrew Stephens-Rennie to be the lay incumbent for St David’s Castlegar. The people of St David’s and the region have been delighted with this move. Andrew is theologically educated and is a published author. He has led churches in Ottawa and Vancouver alongside priests. He is an experienced church leadership trainer and consultant. He has discerned that ordination to priesthood is not his primary call.
But when he and his family moved to the West Kootenays in early 2020 we recognised his presence as a gift to us. We grabbed that gift. Andrew’s ability and experience is exactly what St David’s needs at this time. Many clergy, myself included, do not have the skills which Andrew has. Those skills are needed in Castlegar, in the West Kootenays and through the diocese. Andrew is working with the Green Abbey project and with the diocesan restructuring working group.
And here is the thing… the church was flexible enough to accept the gift as it was. The church did not demand Andrew jump through our hoops in order to do work he was already proven able to do. Yes there are challenges. We are not embracing lay presidency of Eucharist or other sacraments. But St David’s has two retired priests who can preside. What St David’s needs is a leader who can help them discern their way forward. Andrew is exactly the person they need.
Here is what Andrew has to say about his appointment: “One of the things I love the most about the ministry God has called me to is journeying with communities of faith in discerning their next faithful steps in ministry together. Sometimes it’s a congregation seeking to renew its long-established ministry for this time and place. Other times, it’s nurturing the seeds of God’s kingdom being planted in different soil. This is the ministry to which I was ordained in Baptism, and a gift that I seek to share with the church.”
For me Andrew’s appointment is evidence of the church truly thinking outside the box. It gives me great hope that if we can think widely on this, then we can think widely on the other issues that challenge us. We can face our difficulties with more options available to us. We can be open to the Spirit of God, who is not limited by our rules and structures.