Celebration of New Ministry, Kristine Blaess, St. Paul’s Church, Murfreesboro

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

There’s no doubt that this evening marks a significant event in the life of this Christian community. At a church like St. Paul’s, rectors are not called every day. When parishioners look back at the life of their church, they tend to think in terms of the rectors they’ve had, and the clergy who have served the church. The celebration of this event, then, goes into the annals of St. Paul’s, into the proverbial chronicles of this church, the time of Dr. Blaess. A significant event, then, and a joyful one as well, for all who love St. Paul’s Church.

This natural tendency to think in terms of leadership, however, ought not to disguise the greater truth that exists alongside it. The ministry we celebrate tonight is a shared ministry. What is begun here tonight is not Kristine’s ministry here at St. Paul’s, but rather a ministry that is shared between priest and congregation, and the bishop as well. A new configuration of ministry is taking shape here, and in order to be effective it will have to be shared. None of us can do this work alone. It must be done in concert with others. We all have our necessary roles to play, and each of us will have to participate fully in order for this new ministry to take wing and fly.

I have learned over the years that St. Paul’s is blessed with abundant human resources, and a church culture that emphasizes shared leadership. You have called a priest who is uniquely prepared, in turn, to call upon your gifts for ministry, and to equip you more fully for the work you are called to. This is a strong combination. We can see the Holy Spirit at work, the finger of God writing the next page of the story. I look forward to the new ministry that will develop as the days and weeks advance here at St. Paul’s.

Our second reading tonight reminds us of some basic truths about the pastoral ministry of the church, the work that clergy and congregations are called to together. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). St. Paul’s words mark out a definite program or pattern of pastoral engagement for the Christian community, an answer to the question of what we’re doing here as a church, a clue to the nature of the great work that lies before us. This verse from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans has been turned to, again and again, by the great pastors of the church, as defining the way forward in the Christian life: God’s own program for us. It’s good for us to hear and remember these words tonight.

Three words in our reading are crucial here. The first is “transformed.” The word is literally “metamorphosed,” signifying a radical change from one way of being to another. Paul is not talking about a simple change of mind but something far more profound: a movement from being “conformed to this world” to a whole new reality. He’s talking about the movement from death to life, from sin to righteousness. He’s announcing to the Christians in Rome that faith in Jesus will not leave them unchanged. Faith demands a fundamental shift in who we are and how we live.

As Christians we take on a new identity in Christ, through our baptism into his death and resurrection. The old life becomes new, and we are changed. The new identity is not just a slight adjustment of our essential identity, nor is it only the blessing of what we already are. It’s transformation. In talking about not being “conformed to this world,” St. Paul is acknowledging that there are other patterns of living on offer that are powerful competitors. Powerful and attractive, otherwise he would not bother to warn us about them. Faith in Jesus doesn’t confirm us in what we are but calls us to new life, to what we can become in him.

Then there’s the word “renewal,” the “renewal of your minds” as St. Paul says. If we are going to be transformed, then we will need to think again about the life we live. We need to be given new hearts and minds in Christ. Transformation leads to a new life, in each of us, marked by the practice of the virtues. As St. Paul says later, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Rom. 12:9-13). Not a bad pastoral pattern: one that St. Paul wants us to keep in mind.

If the movement from death to life is the gift of God’s grace, then the way we live depends on God’s grace as well. None of us can or ought to depend on ourselves. This ambitious pastoral pattern is not one we can accomplish ourselves. We must depend on God.

Our pastoral practice of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist underscores this process of renewal. Each time we come to the altar rail to receive the sacrament we are renewed by Christ’s life given for us through his Body and his Blood. A prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas in our Prayer Book asks that in recognizing Christ’s Body and Blood, in “venerating” it, “we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption.” In other words, that we may perceive within ourselves his presence, through the outward signs of our renewal in him.

Finally, there is the word “discernment.” This is a word made for the pastoral practice of the church. It’s a word that describes the common work of the church, the work we do together as pastors and parishioners. We pray and reflect, putting ourselves in the presence of God so that we may discern what God is doing in the church and in the world.

Discernment depends on the renewal of the mind, on the pastoral practice of holiness (taking us back to the virtues). Discernment guides us in every plan we make as leaders of the church, in every program we embrace, in every agenda item to which we subscribe. Discernment is work that priest and people will need to do together so that we may accomplish that which is “good and acceptable and perfect,” as the Apostle says.

There’s the program of pastoral practice, laid out for this next portion of the time ahead by the Apostle Paul himself. My prayer, my dear friends at St. Paul’s Church, is that the good work which you have already begun as priest and people, and which we celebrate tonight, may continue in the years ahead, as you fulfill the mission and ministry that God has given you together in this place.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee