With very little fanfare, we have entered the church season after Epiphany. Because we marked its first Sunday this past weekend with the feast of The Baptism of the Lord rather than moving the Jan. 6 feast of the three kings up, we didn’t dip into that sweet familiar story as fully as usual. You may have noticed the ceramic magi and camels briefly joined the holy family at the high altar. The Epiphany star hangs above.
I’ve always found it interesting that we call it the season after Epiphany. Rather than savoring the star shine and the earliest days of Jesus’ childhood, we’re immediately whisked off into the start of his public ministry 30-some years later. But there is some wisdom in this. Once you have an Epiphany, the next thing you must do is live into it.
This period between the feast of Epiphany and the start of Lent is as short as can be this year, not unlike the Advent that preceded this Christmas. But it gives us six weeks or so to live into the discovery that we made at Christmas, that Christ is with us as Emmanuel and is calling to follow him as Messiah.
You’ll notice that the Sunday Gospels in the first few weeks of this season will be about Jesus calling his disciples and giving them a sneak peek at who he truly is. So, this is a good time for us to personally and as a faith community ask how God is calling us to discipleship and ministry this year. Putting Epiphany right at the start of the New Year is a nice touch, as we make New Year’s resolutions at this time as well.
Discipleship and ministry. This is a little different than volunteering and giving back, which is often how these efforts take shape in our secular world. But discipleship and ministry go a bit deeper than that. They are closer to vocation and calling and are more about how we turn the faith and love that we carry inside outward into service and transformative action.
The Catechism at the back of the Book of Common Prayer gives a nice explanation of what ministry means. It starts by listing lay people first as ministers of the Church, followed by bishops, priests and deacons. And while these various roles practice ministry differently, the end result is the same: we are all called to represent and bear witness to Christ and his Church in the wider world, help reconcile what’s broken, and to be active in the life, governance and worship of the Church. (see page 855 of the BCP).
How does one discern what ministry to take on at any given time? Often the calendar becomes the main arbiter of whether we get involved in a ministry. But there is some work that can be done before consulting your schedule, whether it is discerning staying in existing ministries or engaging in new ones or approaching ministry for the very first time.
Here are some techniques that I have used over the years in discerning the various roles that God has called me to, not only as a professional minister, but as a lifelong disciple.
Pay attention to what catches your eye, or breath or tugs at your heart. Do you find yourself focusing on particular liturgical ministries at church on Sunday or thinking about being involved in programs at St. Peter’s or at other churches? Spend some time reflecting more deeply on what it would mean for you to do the things that are calling to you. Imagine yourself in the role. Perhaps you’ve engaged in ministries in the past that you would like to try again or bring to St. Peter’s. Perhaps there is something you’ve always wanted to try, but always found a reason not to. Give yourself permission to dream a little about being engaged in them.
Bring it to prayer. Share that tug with God and ask for grace and guidance as you discern where God is calling you to serve.
Ask your friends and family what they think. When considering a new ministry, it often helps to ask several people who know you well whether they think it would be a good fit for you. Often, they will see gifts that you might not notice, or point out issues to consider before jumping in.
Pay attention to your energy levels. If you find that considering a ministry, including one you are already in, gives you a feeling of exhaustion or low energy, that’s a sign it’s not a good fit. If you find yourself energized by dreaming about it or doing it, that’s a sign you are looking in the right place.
Consider the needs at hand and ask yourself if your gifts match up. All our ministries, especially our Sunday liturgical ministries such as ushers, Eucharistic Ministers, acolytes and readers, would benefit from more people. A list of St Peter’s ministries to prayerfully consider can be found on our website, along with whom to contact for more information.
Consult your calendar. While it shouldn’t have the first word on discernment, your schedule really can have the last word on how to best live out your call to ministry year to year. But it’s good to know where your heart wants to go when the schedule opens up, or how you might shape your time to promote your own spiritual and emotional thriving.
As always, I’m happy to help with discernment. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment to talk about the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life this year.