What is a Canon Missioner for Discipleship? This is the most frequent question I have gotten since Bishop Russell first hired me for this position.
First, let’s break down the words and ideas in the title itself. Admittedly, some of our “insider” language can be confusing not only to insiders but especially to those outside of our specialized designations and denominations.
Historically in the church, a ‘canon’ is an honorary title conferred upon a member of the clergy (and some lay persons) for faithful and valuable service to the church. This definition does not exactly answer our query, so the church at large has begun adding further explanation of the “valuable service to the church” along the lines of “Canon Missioner for [insert a specific ministry]”.
Bishop Kendrick has long grounded his vision for our diocese in what he calls the “three D’s: discernment, discipleship, and development.” The way we go about realizing this includes offering resources, tools and training that promote our congregations to be the holy ground for transformation into and engagement with God’s kingdom.
We respond to this vision in three areas of focused effort:
TO CULTIVATE DISCERNMENT: we help people move more deeply into the mystery of God’s unique call to life and ministry;
TO ENCOURAGE DISCIPLESHIP: we equip people to be transformed from members into disciples and, even further, into apostles;
TO FOSTER DEVELOPMENT: we extend our mission beyond the status quo.
Our Canon to the Ordinary, the recently retired Rev. Canon Massey Gentry, generally covered the area of discernment with a specific emphasis on those churches going through transition and ministers moving from one place to another. He also advised the bishop on matters of canon law and ecclesiastical matters.
The Rev. Kammy Young serves as Canon Missioner for Development, further specified as evangelism and mission engagement. Kammy’s role is to offer resources, tools and training to foster development, extending our mission beyond the status quo. She has been working over the past year and half with many congregations in our diocese that wish to either branch out in new ministry, or that are being “redefined” in some way, or that want to challenge themselves to more of an outward engagement in the community with partnering churches or agencies.
The “D” in the middle of the Bishop Russell's vision, discipleship, has not been specifically addressed by a staff person until now. And, as most of you have asked even still, “what will that mean?” A good place to start, I think, is in seeking to understand and discover what we think discipleship means in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. For many, it has to do with formation, generosity, compassion, spiritual discipline, and growth in faith. For others, it is a vague word having to do with the more demonstrative ways we live out our faith inside and outside of a religious community.
Recently, Bishop Russell shared with me an article from theologian John Roberto wherein he lays out some key, very basic characteristics of discipleship: 1. Disciples know Jesus Christ; 2. Disciples know the Bible; 3. Disciples know the Christian faith; 4. Disciples make faith a way of life; 5. Disciples are mentored; 6. Disciples are equipped.
The question remains: how does a part-time missioner for discipleship go about providing leadership (mentoring and equipping) in these six characteristics of discipleship? To start, Bishop Russell and I have outlined a few areas that we will give priority in helping to serve both our diocese as a whole and individual congregations as needs arise and are further defined:
Work on the expansion and sustainability of the School for Ministry with the specific goal of expanding licensed lay ministries;
Provide leadership in diocesan formation events such as Discipleship Day, consultation with other clergy and participation in continuing education offerings;
Consult directly with congregations and convocations in developing local formation programs for both adults and young people as requested (including leadership in the development of resources resulting from such assessment and engagement);
Work with the Commission on Ministry to develop opportunities and resources for those applicants recommended for further lay ministry and/or being considered for Holy Orders.
There is no doubt that such goals are lofty and too big for one person to manage. I began my first day as missioner for discipleship with a line from the Daily Office as my guide: "In the first year of his reign, in the first month, Hezekiah opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them" (2 Chronicles 29:3). In order to literally and metaphorically open ‘the doors’ and maybe repair some of them, I hope to gather a Discipleship Committee that will join me and the bishop in determining what our first goals will be. I look forward to this work of creative collaboration and inspired innovation.
We have a wonderful opportunity with our 50th Jubilee Celebration next year and the many opportunities and challenges it will present for our growth and life together. I hope you will stay tuned and participate in the many ways we will be called to remember, reorient, and be renewed. It will certainly be a time of opening many doors and seeking the Holy Spirit’s movement among us.
I look forward to listening, serving, and learning with you as we enter this venture together. I encourage you to share what your thoughts on discipleship are or what you are dreaming and hoping for our diocese.
 See John Roberto, “A Vision of Faith Maturing” in Faith Formation with a New Generation, LifelongFaith Associates: lifelongfaith.com.