Living Stones

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be  yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2, passim)

My former diocese belonged, and still belongs, to a partnership called “Living Stones.” It is an association of (mostly) small dioceses exploring together the concept of what is sometimes called “total ministry.” That simply means mission and ministry rooted and grounded in our baptismal covenant in which all Christians, clergy and lay, are called to work together in teams in order to more visibly express the presence of the Body of Christ in their local communities and throughout the world.

In this concept of “team ministry” some of the negative effects of hierarchy, of clericalism, and its evil twin anti-clericalism are done away with, or at least minimized. For the sake of the gospel. For the sake of mission. For example, I like to replace the usual pyramidal paradigm with bishops on top, priests next, deacons next, and laity on the bottom (substitute your own nomenclature for the ordained and the lay) with a circle.

The circle has Christ at its center, the empowering means of grace like word and prayer and sacrament radiating out like the spokes of a wheel from Jesus, and the various ministries and ministers of the church found along the perimeter of the circle, none “higher” than the other, but each and all empowered by the same grace of God to carry out their several vocations.

I believe that is a much healthier and much more ancient model of ministry than the top-down, consumer/provider  forms of ministry we still see in much of the Church today,  in whatever denomination. We are together “a holy priesthood (meant) to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!”

6 Responses to “Living Stones”

  1. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    i am always distrustful of such arrangements, i’m afraid.

    a bishop has certain canonical responsibilities; they don’t go away. they can’t be pushed aside, or eluded, or escaped. when push comes to shove, about things which a bishop has responsibility for deciding, the bishop must either decide, or shirk her responsibilities.

    so about those things, those areas where the “various ministry” of the bishop involves oversight, making a decision, which the other “various ministries” must simply take, whether they agree with it or not, what then? in those areas, i am deeply afraid of arrangements in which:

    * the bishop finds someone else to be the apparent maker-of-decisions, whether a committee, or a policy document, or something else, so that she can say “hey, it’s not my decision” and yet, still is in fact the one who makes the decision, or

    * the bishop abdicates responsibility for the decision to others, or

    * the bishop manipulates process behind the scenes, so that it appears the decision is reached by a group when it’s really reached just by her.

    i am much more happy with a bishop that knows her authority, and uses it, clearly, plainly, directly, without pretending it’s not really authority, or trying to get a committee to rubber-stamp decisions. this goes along with a bishop that knows her authority in another sense: knows which things are not hers to decide.

    one of the greatest failures of leadership, i think, is for a leader to make mistakes about what is and is not in their portfolio.

    sadly, when i hear “re-orientations” like yours, it (in my experience) is very often associated with a dodging of responsibility in some areas, and a usurpation of power in others.

    (consider, for example, that if the canons tell the bishop “you must decide X” and the bishop says, “we’re a circle, not a pyramid, so I’m appointing group X to decide”, the bishop has usurped authority right there!)

  2. ecubishop Says:


    You obviously misunderstand what I, and other proponents of “total ministry” or a baptismal ecclesiology are talking about. Each of the ministries around the circumference of the circle I have desribed have their own charisms and their own responsibilities. Clearly bishops have canonical responsibilities to make certain decisions and must do so. Sometimes bishops have made decisions for which they have no canonical responsibilties.

    Clearly priests, deacons and lay persons have their own canonical responsibilties which must be carried out. They too sometimes have either overstepped their bounds or failed to exercise their responsibilities.

    The point is, none of this makes any one of us “higher” , more important, or more privileged within the Body of Christ. We are all of us, together, ” a roayal priesthood.”

  3. Bill Fulton Says:


    I’m the Vicar of a small Episcopal church on the coast of Oregon. Thanks for your thoughts about ministry as a circle. I think we need to completely re-think and re-imagine the ministry of our bishops.

    I’ve found that as I let go of control, my parishioners respond by coming up with more creative ministries. It’s been a revelation for me to discover that I don’t have to be in charge of everything.

    The old “pyramid” model of ministry is unhelpful today. Everywhere pyramids are being flattened and the grassroots level is where new energy and creativity are coming from. Patriarchy is dead, and may it rest in peace.

    I’m encouraged to hear a bishop giving us new ideas.

  4. ecubishop Says:

    Thanks for that, Bill! Keep up the good work and ministry! It remains true in ministry development today that “things which had grown old are becoming new!”

  5. Andrew Says:

    Indeed, Right Reverend Sir! If only the Church would live up to, live into and live out the baptismal ecclesiology it has been espousing since at least the authorization of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer! Nevertheless, the old “top-down” model just seems to live on as each new generation of leaders learns it from the one preceding. Regarding the ministry of all the baptized, one day the church may actually have as its motto, “Not only with our lips, but in our lives!”

  6. ecubishop Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Andrew. The renewal of mission and ministry in the Church is a slow process! However, when I look at the way this church functioned 40 years ago, and the way we do now, I have to believe we’ve come a long way. Most Episcopalians really *are* formed by the baptismal covenant today in ways I could not have imagined decades ago. It’s slow…but it’s happening!

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