Born of Water, Born of Spirit:
Supporting the Ministry of the Baptized in Small Congregations
By Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Fredrica Harris Thompsett
The Alban Institute, 2010. Pb., 193 pp., $18.00.
Picture this: a small Episcopal congregation of seven members goes to visit its bishop to request closure, and the bishop replies, “No! You still have a mission in your community!” Fourteen years later, the worshiping community has more than quadrupled, includes people of all ages, sees itself as a ministering community, and serves the area around it via a soup kitchen, an afterschool program, and a community action organization. Can you imagine that happening in your judicatory?
In Born of Water, Born of Spirit authors Sheryl Kujawa- Holbrook and Fredrica Harris Thompsett tell this (p. 80) and many other stories of small congregations reclaiming the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and saying “Yes!” to a new call from God. They write out of their experience as Episcopal priests, seminary professors and directors of the Lilly-endowed Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What these congregations all have in common is that someone has encouraged and coached them to live fully into the meaning of their baptism, individually and as a congregation.
The models profiled share some form of the following assumptions and framework:
•The baptized are summoned to a lifelong relationship with God and gifted for a lifetime of discipleship and mission.
•The Holy Spirit is active in every Christian community regardless of size or wealth, and all the gifts that the congregation needs for ministry are already present in the congregation.
•Each local congregation learns to discern its particular call from God in its particular context.
•The people of God share the responsibilities of congregational life, preaching and worship included.
•Instead of issuing blanket invitations to members to come from congregations to training events, ministry developers go to congregations to identify, train, coach and encourage indigenous leaders. Like Acts-era missionary teams, ministry developers spend an extended time in particular congregations, and then move on to help others.
•In the Episcopal tradition, besides receiving training in areas of leadership such as spiritual formation and pastoral care, some church members are locally ordained as priests for their own congregations.
This is not the easiest book to read. I sometimes got bogged down in the details of different ways to implement this approach. However, the authors provide many useful sidebars, including a chart comparing “The Church Viewed only as Institution” with “The Church Viewed Primarily as People of God” (p. 140). There is also an extensive annotated list of print, web-based, and DVD resources.
Born of Water, Born of Spirit is certainly an essential reference for all who envision a fruitful future for small congregations. Yet it also offers a challenge to every judicatory and every congregation, even those who can still afford to structure their life around the work of ordained professionals. We all need to be asking: Do we truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit? Do we truly believe in the priesthood of all believers? Do we truly want to equip all our saints for ministry?
If the answer is “Yes!” then we might start hearing more and more stories of amazing renewal in congregations of all sizes.
You can read an excerpt from this book here.