Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
“And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace,
a message that is able to build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.”
The apostle Paul was always leaving churches. In order to carry the gospel message to more communities, Paul would start a congregation, be with them for a while, and then move on. He might circle back and visit with them, as he did with the church in Ephesus, and we know that he kept in touch through letters, but most of the time the churches were on their own.
Part of my background reading to learn about the churches in our diocese has been History of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania (1871-1909) and The Diocese of Harrisburg (1904-1909), Vol. 1, by The Rev. Jonathan W. Miller, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Frackville, and published by the author in 1909. The book has many descriptions like this one, “During the year 1881-2 The Rev. Mr. Chapman removed from the Diocese, which again left the Church of the Holy Apostles vacant” (p. 634). It is strange that, from this perspective, the removal of one person from a congregation makes that church “vacant”—if that one person is the rector.
In reality, the church is much more than its rector. Our Outline of Faith defines the ministers of the church as “Lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons.” The work of the church takes place when all of us are ministering; lay and ordained together. It can be hard for to break out of an older model of church that depends on the rector to be the center of the congregation. That model is becoming less and less a reality for a number of congregations in our diocese. Many of our churches do not have full-time clergy. But these churches are not vacant. They are often full of life and ministry; with members serving their communities and witnessing to Jesus Christ.
A Senior Warden of one such church told me, “Years ago we saw more of a Roman Catholic perspective of relationships between clergy and parishioners
‘this is Father’s church perspective’ of the relationship between clergy and parishioners. ” Now things are different. He speaks of the rich spiritual life of the parishioners he has witnessed, and how he is aware of the Holy Spirit at work in his parish.
When the apostle Paul started these churches, there was no fixed model. They were making it up as they went along because it had never been done before. They let the Holy Spirit guide them.
Several of our congregations are now in conversation with one another about how they can support each other. One person told me that it was the Pilgrimage that was encouraging them to come together and explore.
New models may emerge as we continue to witness to Christ’s love and invite the Holy Spirit to come and build up the congregation in new ways.
Give thanks today for all us who are here together in ministry.