Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Ember Days: Because They Matter

Christian ministry -- lay or ordained -- is a gift of the Spirit
that must be nourished in prayer and study.

Ember Days: Four times in the year, set by ancient custom, consisting of a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in which we pray for the ministry of all Christians, with special focus on the discernment and selection of persons for leadership in those ministries (lay and ordained). Special prayers and scripture readings are provided for them in The Book of Common Prayer.

In our church’s current fondness for “persistent spiritual amnesia,” the Embertides have largely been allowed to wither away. Once a vital encounter with the themes of calling, holiness of life, and the high obligations undertaken in leading Christ’s flock, today these venerable days are known only to a few – primarily those who are in the process of ordination, or those who are required for various canonical reasons to report the shape of their ministry to a bishop. The Embertides are now essential the province of specialists, reduced by ecclesiastical atrophy to the “fulfillment of institutional righteousness.” But, it was not always so.

Once, these were seasons when many clergy were ordained amidst solemn rites of fasting, prayers, reflection, and other preparation. The need Christian leadership has for continual reflection and humility was heightened during these short periods at the change of the seasons. Many clergy made their confessions, reviewed their vows, and spent time with a trusted spiritual guide or companion in connection with the Ember Days.

Now, we are fortunate to see them referred to in the calendar, if at all. It is true, the current Book of Common Prayer has enriched the concept of the Ember Days considerably by expanding their intended focus to include all orders of ministry in the Church; but to what extent has this “taken flesh” in the contemporary Church? Very little, it seems. There has been much talk about ministry in the Church, but there seems little accountability for all that talk in terms of prayer. We can change this.

First of all by knowing that these commemorations are concerned with the welfare of the ministry of the Whole Church. Healthy ministry concerns us all; we need spiritually-nourished and godly leadership at all levels in order to do the work of the Gospel.

Then, we as individuals can offer the prayers associated with the Embertides. At St. Timothy’s, a section of the Rector’s blog is set aside for just this.

Finally, parishes can eventually begin to put a focus on Embertide Eucharists, prayer services, and educational offerings about effective ministry. Perhaps, someday, our diocesan priorities will change to the point where the Embertides will be times for gatherings of the lay and clergy leadership with the bishop, and when we re-commit to the notion that all who minister the Gospel must make a priority for reflection, renewal, and re-commitment in that ministry. Otherwise, the Church comes across as just one more bureaucracy, one more moral improvement program run on strictly human terms.

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