In the Diocese of Kootenay, we are blessed with several expressions of Shared Ministry; be that between the Anglican Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church, or a glorious combination of denominations. At first blush, it would be easy for us to dismiss the idea of shared ministry as it’s too complicated, or the two denominations are very different. I would counter that if we start with what we have in common, namely, that we choose to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we believe in God, and are comforted by the Holy Spirit, that’s a most excellent place to begin.
The tents of the denominations may be different. The creeds may be different. Our Worship styles may be different, yet, I would challenge, the average person who comes to worship would not be able to tell one denominational service from another.
In the Hebrew scripture, we hear of Moses and his reluctant leadership. He was succeeded by Joshua who was initially hesitant, yet once he was given a similar commandment from God, to “‘remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so”, (Joshua 5.15, NRSV) he continued his leadership with boldness and gratitude.
Joshua faced many challenges and worked with many people of significance, and once he had deposed thirty-one kings and had redistributed the land to the original tribes, he made the following pronouncement, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’” (Joshua 24.15, NRSV) Joshua’s household was not only his immediate family by blood and by marriage, but his extended family. One could submit, this is similar to the blending of Parish families when shared ministry occurs.
In some cases, shared ministry comes about because of economic uncertainty. We are all in aging congregations. Our buildings are aging and getting more expensive to maintain. Instead of being able to do the work ourselves, we have to hire people, which can be frustrating and expensive. The face of the church has changed in that we have many of the same people as we did 25 years ago, yet they (we) are all 25 years older.
For those who live in larger communities, it is often preferable to bring together churches of the same denomination to ‘amalgamate’ into one building, or, if very brave, to begin in an entirely different space. For those in smaller communities, especially ones that are isolated (such as in the East and West Kootenays) the closest Anglican parish can be hours away. In these cases, it makes more sense to join with our neighbours. They may be a different denomination, yet due to community involvement, and in some cases marriage, we are neighbours and friends. We already have much in common, aside from denomination.
Church, as it was 120 years ago, is NOT the same today. Society, as it was 120 years ago, is NOT the same today. Rather than lamenting the past and misremembering through rose-coloured lenses, it is time to look to the future. To ask ourselves what is TRULY important. Are we possibly entering a time when we can look BEYOND denomination? That the way we choose to identify is as “followers of Jesus”?
Perhaps it is a time to let go of our buildings and focus on what is most important; namely, living the gospel message in the broken world in which we find ourselves. Healing the sick, clothing the naked, giving voice to the voiceless, being the hands and feet of Christ in the communities we serve: serving as laity and clergy alike.
Wherever you and your parish are within this beloved church of ours, know that we are all children of God. God has a plan, and sometimes to receive that plan we need only get out of the way. Happy 120 years, Diocese of Kootenay!