Dear Friends in Christ,
Let me say this as diplomatically as I can: There is something about the annual observance of Laity Sunday required by The United Methodist Church that encourages me and annoys me at the same time. Being honest, it annoys me that we expect lay people with little training or experience in the disciplines of worship leadership to carry on their shoulders the needs and expectations that people bring to church. To me, it often feels like a kind of set-up to ask laity to bear that burden. For example, there is no such thing as one week a year when it’s okay to practice medicine without significant training and experience. Our physical health is far too important to entrust to lay persons who have not had the opportunity to attend medical school and learn all that can be learned from residency in an accredited hospital. So what makes us imagine that our spiritual health, even for one Sunday, should be entrusted to amateurs who love the Lord and who live their faith, but have never seen the inside of a seminary? See what I mean? That’s what bugs me about Laity Sunday. It’s not my job I’m protecting; it’s you!
On the other hand, every time we observe Laity Sunday I always feel encouraged by how much preparation the leaders of our congregation invest in this special responsibility and by how well they care for the spiritual needs and desires we entrust to them as they speak to us and for us as fellow servants of God. You can always feel their energy and their sincerity, their commitment and their excitement for our church and for the challenge of living as Christ’s representatives in the day to day world.
Theologically speaking, our United Methodist mandate to observe Laity Sunday grows out of our core belief that all ministry—lay and clergy—is rooted in the Baptism we share with Christ and with each other. Just as Jesus’ ministry begins in the Gospels on the day of his Baptism by John, so does ours. By water and the Spirit, all Christians are incorporated into the mission of Jesus, God’s anointed one, who “healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 9). Laity Sunday reminds us that all Christians are called by God to re-present the ministry of Jesus to the world. We are, as the writer of I Peter memorably tells us, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9). The Greek word for “people” is laos, the word that gives Laity Sunday its name.
Never underestimate the power of Laity Sunday—even if you’re a pastor who sometimes has doubts about requiring congregations to do it! And never take a break from worship because you know that next Sunday’s service will be entirely lay led—which, by the way, is exactly what will happen on November 16! Laity Sunday is the UMC’s version of “We the People.” Laity Sunday reminds us, as a speaker I heard more than twenty years ago quip, that, “The church is what’s left when the preacher leaves town and the building burns down!”
And let me tell you something else: I happen to know from my collaboration with Lay Leaders Nancy Hammerton and John Condon that the Laity Sunday worship service they have been working on intensively for a few months will be something that people will be talking about for many months to come. In other words, they have invested a lot of thought, energy, and prayer in everything that we will experience this weekend. Don’t miss it! Trust me! It’s going to be powerful!
See you in church,