Traditionally the third Sunday in Advent has been associated with the ministry of the church. So for instance in the Book of Common Worship the collect for the Third Sunday of Advent is as follows:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming sent your messenger to prepare your way before you: grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in your sight; for you are alive and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Beautifully constructed as the collect may be, I believe a more imaginative approach to praying for God’s ministers is called for.
- This is a Sunday for congregations to pray to pray for their ministers (and where appropriate for their families) and to thank them for all that they do! Hopefully there will be a tangible expression to the thanks – maybe flowers, better still a Christmas ‘bonus’, or even a weekend away for the family!
- This is a Sunday to pray for past ministers of the church, as also for those men and women the church has sent out into ministry. In order to pray more intelligibly for ministers associated with the church in the past, there is a lot to be said for contacting these ministers a week or so before the Sunday and ask for a brief report (100 words maximum) in which they update the church on their news together with perhaps a specific item for prayer which might be included in the newssheet for the day. Better still, introduce a video-clip featuring the ministers concerned.
- This is a Sunday to pray for those ministers engaged in chaplaincy of one kind or another. Again, prayer could be made more specific by naming some of the local chaplains such as hospital chaplains, town-centre chaplains, police and chaplains. Again, a video clip would be great – but otherwise what about mugshots in the newssheet for the day..
- This is a Sunday to pray for those who train men and women for ministry. The church could pray for theological colleges in general, but perhaps in particular for the theological college which trained their present minister. Again imagination is required in how this is presented.
- This is a Sunday to pray for all who care for today’s ministers – bishops and archdeacons, regional ministers and moderators, as also those responsible for continuing ministerial development.
Ministers need their people’s prayers, for ministry can be exhausting and discouraging. A survey of 1000 Anglican ministers in England revealed, for instance, that nearly a third felt used up at the end of the day in the parish; one in five felt frustrated by their parish ministry; one in six felt that parishioners blamed them for their problems; less than half felt they had accomplished many worthwhile things in their ministry or that they were positively influencing people’s lives in their parish ministry.
Finally, Ministry Sunday is also an occasion when the church needs to remember that although only some are called by God to lead his church, all his people are called to engage in ‘ministry’ of one kind or another.
PS This is an amended version of a post published some seven years ago I would guess that few of my long-standing subscribers to my blog will remember it, while many of my newer subscribers will of course have never been blessed by these thoughts. This in turn causes me to believe that there are occasions when sermons may be repeated. Indeed, when I was minister of a local church, with the blessing and encouragement of my people, on the morning and evening of the first Sunday in September we had a ‘preach it again, pastor’ day when I preached again two sermons from the past year which in the judgment of the church had been particularly helpful.