Following my recent meeting with the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance, I flew to Las Vegas to be part of the Living Stones conference. Living Stones is comprised of about 20 member dioceses, all of which have small congregations and many of which are using a Total Common Ministry approach to parish leadership. Total Common Ministry is rooted in the belief that all the required gifts for ministry can be found in the community and that teams of community members can be formed and ordained or licensed for the necessary ministries. Total Common Ministry is often found in communities that can no longer afford a priest, but the purpose is to expand the ministry of the community, particularly among the laity. (In Maine, we have no Total Common Ministry teams, although we have made extensive use of ordained teams utilizing deacons.)
The purpose of the Living Stones conference is to present case studies of new ministry efforts and experiments to small groups who offer insight and critique to help the new effort succeed. The Revs. Michael Ambler and Heather Blais presented a case study about the new effort to build a team ministry between Grace, Bath, and St. Philip’s, Wiscasset, involving two full-time priests, one of whom is a new priest.
We were meeting in Las Vegas because the rooms were cheap ($25/night), but it happened that we were there during Super Bowl weekend, one of the most important weekends of the year in Las Vegas. Circus Circus, where we were staying, was completely jammed with people. As it turned out, nearly 300,000 people came to Las Vegas and wagered nearly $90 million dollars on the Super Bowl.
The contrast between what we were doing at Living Stones and what was happening all around us was incongruous and, at times, overwhelming. Some conference goers felt that it was absolutely wrong for us – and disorienting – to meet in Las Vegas. And others felt that in Las Vegas we were confronting head on the cultural change that is all around us in our churches. Thousands of ordinary people were present for some time off, to have fun, and, perhaps, to get rich. If our message can’t address Las Vegas, is it adequate to the times we live in?
I’m not sure we were much noticed by the folks in Las Vegas – and we didn’t try to get noticed – but I’ve been thinking ever since about the relevance of our message for a nation that sees the
Super Bowl as one of the most important events of the year. How willing are we to embrace that world, to try new things, to take our message of love and hope to where people are?
My visitation the next weekend was in Millinocket, the lovely contemporary worship space of St. Andrew’s. We shared in the adult baptism of a person who was previously unchurched, but who found a welcome and a home in St. Andrew’s. And we announced on that morning that a new ministry is beginning between St. Andrew’s, and St. Thomas’, Winn, who will work together with the Rev. Lev Sherman as their rector.
It’s an idea which presents new possibilities and hope for both communities. It will allow both to have a resident priest present on a regular basis. It promises to be more efficient and to create great possibilities for combining strengths and sharing ministry. But ultimately it will depend on effectively proclaiming God’s good news to people of those economically distressed communities.
Millinocket and Winn may not seem like Las Vegas, but they represent, no less than Las Vegas, the changing landscape in which we are trying to share the Good News.