This past weekend, the presiding bishop spoke with the clergy about the unique distribution of power and authority among the four orders in The Episcopal Church. I remembered that there had been a question at our own annual meeting about the “lay led, clergy directed” nature of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, so Bishop Katharine’s words caught my attention and imagination. She pointed out that when we consider the orders present in The Episcopal Church, we usually think of three: lay, priest and deacon; yet we know there are four because we would cease to be The Episcopal Church without bishops.
Each of the four orders has their own responsibilities and ministry. These are clearly explained in the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (p.855-856). All four orders are called to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.
The particular ministry of the bishop is to represent Christ and his church as apostle, chief priest, and pastor to the entire diocese. They are to preach and teach and ordain while maintaining the discipline of The Episcopal Church. Since bishops cannot be everywhere throughout the diocese, they need priests.
The particular ministry of the priest is to represent Christ and his church as pastor, sharing in the overseeing of the church with the bishop, preaching and administering the sacraments. Sometimes a deacon partners with them in the worship services.
The particular ministry of the deacon is to represent Christ and his church as a servant to those in need and to assist priests and bishops in preaching and administering sacraments. Deacons may or may not work within a church structure. They are uniquely called to bring the needs of the world into the Church.
The laity each have their own unique ministry. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his church bearing Christian witness by carrying on Christ’s reconciling work in the world. Laity are also to take their place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.
So how does this look at St. Martin? Mike and I each serve as priests in an extension of Bishop High’s ministry. We ultimately report to God, but practically report to Bishop High. For instance, Bishop High has made it clear to the priests in the diocese that either Rite I or Rite II is to be used at the principal Sunday service in any church. Neither Mike nor I have the authority to use another form or to pray a Eucharistic prayer from any other source. This is why, when we would like to host a service geared for the particular learning and language needs of children, it is easier to place that service on a Saturday evening. Since the Saturday evening service is not the principal Sunday service, we can be much more flexible about how we celebrate all together. Also an interesting note, Henry is not an employee of St. Martin, but instead serves here at the request and under the authority of Bishop High.
The vestry has a unique role in all of this also. The vestry is charged with the stewardship of the physical buildings and property. The vestry cannot hire or fire any of the church staff, including the clergy. However, the vestry could refuse to fund any of the church staff positions or budget requests. There is a tension and balance distributed in the system that keeps everyone in conversation, an exquisite system of checks and balances. Vestry meetings are a great place to witness the work of the church in action on a local level.
Laity serve the church in many ways: ministry leaders, Sunday school teachers, lay ministers, vestry members, committee members, etc. Laity vote for the vestry members and diocesan delegates that will represent all of St. Martin in each gathering. Delegates then have the vote and voice at diocesan convention when decisions are made there for the spreading of God’s kingdom. Diocesan delegates vote for the deputies to General Convention, which is where the presiding bishop and the president of the house of deputies are elected. They each head houses in our two-house system at General Convention that decide the present and future work of the whole international Episcopal Church.
As St. Martin lives in this time of transition, this distribution of power and authority is a foundational piece. St. Martin’s statements on vision, mission, and core values will signal who we are to a potential rector. That priest will decide if the work of St. Martin is work they can partner in doing to spread the Kingdom in Tarrant County.
All four orders of ministers are essential to the work and worship of The Episcopal Church. All four orders play a unique role in the spreading of God’s kingdom and the continuance of Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. If you need help finding your ministry, I hope this has been helpful. I would be happy to enter into discernment with you about your own ministry here at St. Martin. You can reach me via email at or phone me at the church office at 817-431-2396.