Laity Address by Tom Bridges

June 22, 2018

This is from a rough transcription provided by Loveeta Baker, Realtime Captioner

Good afternoon.  I am Tom Bridges, the Yadkin valley district lay leader and the member of ‑‑ in Kernersville.

Last November I was in Gastonia with a group, including Bishop Leeland, several from the cabinet and the Board of Laity, who were exploring ways to have the laity of Western North Carolina Conference 1* # become more engaged in ministry.  Towards the end of the meeting we were talking about the laity presentation at Annual Conference.  Someone suggested a certified lay minister give the address.

Being a certified lay minister, on my way back to Kernersville I began thinking about what I might say if I was asked to give the message.  Something happened to my way home, by the time I got home the Lord had placed the message, the title, scripture, in closing, on my heart.

I humbly bring it to you today.  There are three Bible passages that are the foundation of my message.  I begin with exodus 3:7‑12ful.  The Lord said, indeed I have seen the misery of the people in Egypt, heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering, so I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptian and bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey.  The home of the Hittites and ‑‑ now the cry of the Israelites has reached me and I have seep the way the Egyptian are opposing them.  I am sending you to farrow to bring them out of Egypt.  Moses said to God:  Who am I to go to ‑‑ bring the ‑‑ God said I will be with you.  This will be a sign to you that it is I who have sent you.  When you have brought the people out of Egypt you will worship God on this mountain.  The second scripture is from Luke, the first chapter, 26‑38.  In the six months of Elizabeth's pregnancy God sent, angel Gabriel to Nazareth to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David, the virgin's name was Mary.  The angel said greetings, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you.  Mary was greatly troubled and wondered what kind of greeting this might be, but the angel said to her:  Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God, you will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and called the son of the most high.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his kingdom will never end.  How will this be, Mary asked, since I am still a virgin?  The angel answered, the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the most high will ‑‑ so the holy one born will be called the son of God.  Even Elizabeth, in her old age, is in her sixth month, for no word there God will ever fail.  I am the Lord's servant Mary answered, may your word be fulfilled.  Then the angel left her.

The final passage is from math you 4:18‑22.  As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, Peter, his brother Andrew.  Come follow me, I will send you out to fish for people.  At once they left their net and followed him.  They

They were in a both with their father Zebedee preparing nets,  Jesus left and called and immediately they followed him.

These are the words of God for the people of God,

A door opens.  At first glance these three passages look very different, but if you look at them closely you can find several underlying themes.  A reluctant Moses is called to lead the children of Israel to the promised land.  Can you imagine Mary's initial reaction of being in the presence of an angel?  She was frightened just being there, then got the news she was to conceive this child.  Even before she was married.  This could have meant death to her and shame on Joseph.

Matthew tells the story of the fishermen that jumped and left their father to follow Jesus.  Each of these passages, God is calling someone like you, someone like me, a lay person, into his service.  Although Moses and Mary were somewhat reluctant they all ultimately agreed to do his will.  Likewise we are all called to be in a ministry of God through our baptism.  On several occasions Bishop Leeland reminds us with the quote attributed to St. Jerome, baptism is the ordination of the laity.

In the book the Christian As Minister I found this statement:  The baptism liturgy reminds us regardless of age, stage of life or particular gifts or talents our lives on this Earth are to be viable extensions of the life and ministry of Jesus.  We are called to the voice to be the voice of Jesus in our world.  Calls to serve come to us in many ways.  My call to ministry is not your call to ministry, just as your gifts are not my gifts.  Being different lets us fit in where and when we are needed.  No matter what you feel your call is, all you have to do is place it in ‑‑ no matter what you feel your call is, all you have to have to place in God's helpful hands, the one thing we cannot do is ‑‑ do not ignore your call.

If Christians are not faithful in ministry, the church will lose its impact.  I am ashamed to say I ignored my service many years, always expecting and looking for a burning bush.  But God finally got it through my thick head through a simple request, much like that of the fishermen, God was calling me through the door he opened.  By finally recognizing this I am doing the very things I never thought or imagined I would or could have even done.  My story began about 12 years ago when my pastor at the time, the Rev  Neal Shaw received a call from our district superintendent, Dr. Hurley Thomas.  He told us about a new ministry the church was going to offer and the conference was beginning a class to train laity as certified lay ministers.  I had an interest but I wasn't sure whether I was going to do it for my own good or for God's good.

I had several discussions with the instructor of the class, the reverend Dr.‑‑ and I finally said yes, traveling on weekends for about six months to the conference office I completed the training and all the other requirements and was certified as a certified lay minister by the district committee in ordained ministry.

Then the reverend Thomas, our DS called about a pastor in Winston‑Salem who was on sick leave and I got to serve that congregation for two months.  I have had other opportunities to serve other congregations, but for various reasons they haven't worked out.

One of the requirements for continuing as a certified lay minister is that you must go before the district committee of ordained ministry every two years to be re‑certified.  I was very nervous my first experience with them, not knowing what to expect.  But they gave me lots of love and encouragement, suggestions for additional training and were there to support my ministry.  They suggested I explore training in pastoral care and I found the class at Wake Forest divinity school which I was able to audit.

Support of a certified lay minister is of the highest importance, both by the district committee and the mentor clergy.  This has been my experience with all of my interactions with the district committee on ordained ministry.  Four district superintendents, conference staff, and my pastor.  My pastor for the past 10 years, the Rev. David Rory has been my mentor and rock when I needed one.

Becoming a certified lay minister has opened several other opportunities for me to be in ministry.  My wife and I became ministers and leaders, for our congregation ‑‑ I am one of the championship lanes on call at Kernersville medical center on the weekends and serve at the Yadkin Valley District lay leader, member of the district leader more adult ministry and help deliver meals on wheels.  To be in ministry and serve God the possibilities are endless, but only if you choose to go through that door when it is opened for you.

Another theme I see in the scriptures is the fact that if God calls you, he will always be there to support you.  He told Moses, I will be with you.  When I get a call as a chaplain I am always apprehensive as I start out to the hospital.  The staff does a good job explaining the situation but I still have inadequacies.  I don't know these folks, only their situation.  I always pray this simple prayer on my way to the hospital:  God, you put me here, I need your help.

You know it never fails, as soon as I come into the room it is evident that God is already there.  And has been long before I arrived.  He will always be with you.  With all of this in mind, laity of the Western North Carolina Conference, I have some good news, no, I have some great news.  With the leadership and support of our bishop Paul Leeland, the hard work of the ministries, support of the Board of Laity and ordained ministry, I am pleased to let you know the conference will begin offering to train laity to serve as certified lay ministers.  Please go by our booth over between here and the bookstore and we have information for you.  Also, you can get information for your district lay group.  There ‑Z's a prediction a large number of clergy will be eligible to retire, the new clergy will not be adequate to fill all appointments.  We are already seeing this happen in several districts.

From a historical perspective, you may recall the story of the church at Antioch.  This church was born from the work of lay people, the church was kept alive because lay people were faithful.  Consequently, the church at Antioch became a powerful arm of the Christian church.  Upon also, if we recall the early days of Methodism in America, many of the churches were pastored by clergy known as circuit riders, only able to be at a particular church a limited number of times during the year.  All other times these churches were kept alive and going by dedicated laity of the congregation.  Laity, we are vital to the ministry of the church, we are called to go into the Antioch's of life and get involved.  Not only is it the work of the clergy, it is our together that we can keep the church strong.  Antioch and circuit rider experiences can happen here in the Western North Carolina, but we must work together to make them happen.

I know there's some confusion about the differences between certified lay speaker and certified lay minister.  Certified lay speakers is a specific calling for the ministry of pulpit supply.  A certified lay minister is called and equipped to conduct public worship, careful congregation, assist leadership, preach the word, lead small groups or establish community ministries as a part of the mission team.

A certified lay minister is assigned, not appointed, by the district superintendent.  What are the four components of certified lay ministry?  Training, you must complain four training modules.  Supervision, a lay person is accountable to the district superintendent or another ordained or licensed minister appointed to oversee the charge who will make provision for sacramental ministry.

Support.  A certified lay minister must be a part of a ministry team.  Accountability.  Certified lay ministers are accountable to the conference committee on lay servant ministries for all over sight, to the district respondent and committee, interview recertification.

Certified lay ministers also have the opportunity with further training to specialize in many other areas.  Remember, we are called by our baptism to be in ministry to God by spreading the good news of the gospel.  If you feel that call of God for ministry as a certified lay minister I hope you take this opportunity and get more information from your district lay servant ministry team.

I want to close by paraphrasing from the reverend Charles ‑‑ a Baptist minister who preached during the 1800s.  Someone approached about sharing the gospel.  He was asked about, what about the people who have never heard the gospel?  Can they be saved?  Reverend Burgin quickly answered:  "for me the question is, if we, who have heard the gospel and failed to share it, can we be saved?"

Laity, if you feel the call from God, a new door has been opened for you and I invite you to go through it.  God is waiting for you.  Amen.