Friday, November 15, 2013

Praying and Blessing (Baptist Edition)

This past weekend, I was asked to conduct the presentation of certificates to candidates completing the ABCNYS Certified Lay Minister program in the Wayne Association (ABC churches located in New York's Wayne County, close to Rochester).  The Wayne Association is to be commended for their diligence in calling forth women and men to study and prepare for lay ministry.  Each of these CLM program graduates will bless congregations through their commitment to prepare for ministry and to serve in churches who might not otherwise be able to call a minister to serve.

The flipside of this happy occasion was the realization that I would need to prepare some materials to facilitate this part of the association's worship.  For non-Baptist blog readers, you may not know that the Baptist tradition does not have a "book of worship" in the manner of other Christian traditions.  Often, worship planning for Baptist ministers and others can be a matter of adapting what others have said or daring to strike out into the unknown of extemporaneous words or the advance work of writing from scratch the prayers of worship just as we would prepare the sermon. 

I have tended to be an adapter of other worship resources as well as trying my hand at writing the prayers out in advance.  I grew up among those who were convinced a prayer written down "didn't count 'cause it ought to be from the heart", and I admit it took awhile to realize not everybody can pray "in the moment", just as surely as not every preacher can speak without notes.  I believe God welcomes our prayers, whether off the cuff or on the page, as all good prayers aim for the same goal:  the praise of God and the desire to grow closer to God through the regularity and honesty of one's prayer life.

I note with gratitude the work of some Baptists to provide worship resources for the rest of us, even if we have our polity's allergy to anything prescriptive or proscribed beyond that of the local church.  Particularly, I recommend the good work of American Baptists Brad Berglund, Mindy Welton-Mitchell and John Skoglund as well as the remarkable gift of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in the form of their worship manual and its chief editor Chris Ellis, who authored a very helpful historical/theological/liturgical exploration of Baptists at worship.  I share the books and websites below in the end notes.

To prepare for the association's recognition of Certified Lay Minister program graduates, I turned to some helpful resources:  scripture (Ephesians 4:1-16), contemplating what I have learned over the years about ordination and its role in Baptist circles, and the desire to affirm the role local churches play in the call of God to serve Christ and the Church (even as we shy from talk of "Church, capital C"). 

Here's what I prepared for the service (with some stage notes to give a sense of what I'm aiming to do in each part of this):

[From the pulpit, I call the assembled worshippers into a time of thanksgiving and celebration for God's call to ministry]

As we celebrate the completion of studies for these three lay pastors, may we give thanks to God and affirm God’s calling in their lives to ministry:

O God, we give thanks for your calling made known in the lives of each believer.  You summon us to follow the way of Jesus Christ, taking up crosses of our own and following pathways often contrary to the ways of the world.  By the calling upon these three lives, may your Spirit move in the midst of their ministry, summoning believers and congregations to new life.  Bless each of us gathered here this day, that all of us may live into the fullness of the priesthood of all believers, so that we may be ministers one to another.  AMEN.

Will those being certified please join with me?
[Note:  I deliberately did not call up those receiving the CLM certificates, keeping the first prayer for ministry over the entire gathering, reminding us that it's not "the people up front on the altar area" who are those called to ministry.  We Baptists affirm the priesthood of all believers foremost.]

Upon completion of the Lay Pastoral Studies program, George, Lois and Marie have satisfied the standards of the American Baptist Churches of New York State to be recognized as Certified Lay Ministers.  These certificates bearing your name are a sign of thanksgiving for your call as well as the trust and support of many who have helped you hear God’s calling and explore how your faith and gifts can be further given over to the glory of God and the ministry.  
[Like a seminary commencement or an ordination service, it is helpful to affirm the successful completion of studies and preparation for ministry.  Even for we Baptists, such work is understood as the work of the individual as well as the support network of congregants, pastors, and family who encourage us all the way along the journey.]

In presenting each of you with this certificate, may God’s blessing continue to bless you richly in the service of Christ and the Church.  May the Spirit continue to beckon you to greater service for the cause of the gospel and the Great Commission.   May Christ’s love be made known in all your words and deeds for His sake.  AMEN.
[The certificates were presented by the ABCNYS Committee on Ministry and the Lay Studies Program, represented by an association leader who also serves on our ABCNYS Board of Mission.  The gathering's host minister also added in a time to recognize those present who have been with the candidates on this journey, something that I inferred in my language yet forgot to include overtly in my worship leading at this point in the service.  Then again, this moment points to the importance of worship as a collaborative effort, sometimes in the planning and sometimes in the experience of worship itself.]

Berglund, Brad.  Reinventing Sunday: Prayers, Readings, Special Services and More. Judson Press, 2006.
Ellis, Christopher J.  Gathering: A Spirituality and Theology of Worship in Free Church Tradition.  SCM Press, 2004. 

Ellis, Christopher J. and Myra Blyth.  Gathering for Worship:  Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples.  Canterbury Press, 2005.
Skoglund, John and Nancy E. Hall.  A Manual for Worship: New Edition.  Judson Press, 1993.
Welton-Mitchell, Mindi.  Rev-O-Lution Blog of worship resources, following the Revised Common Lectionary.  Available online via:


  1. I have enjoyed being in a multi-denominational church. It allows us to borrow from the best of each tradition, while at the same time being authentically ourselves