The past two Sunday evenings, it has been my privilege to share in Laity Dinners in each of the two Indiana Conferences. These dinners were begun by Bishop White some years ago, and they are hosted by the Board of Laity of each Conference. Each District Lay Leader invited 2-3 lay leaders from their districts to attend, and the emphasis was upon inviting laity who are not necessarily involved in conference committees. After a delicious meal provided by the Board of Laity, then I had time to share a little about myself and my emphases. But the majority of the evening was spent listening to the questions, concerns, local church ministries, and other issues that those lay persons wanted to share with their bishop.
I enjoy such times of listening to laity. Of course I spend much of my time with clergy, with conferences committees, and preaching in local churches -- and those times also give me a chance to listen to clergy and laity. However, having specific times like these Laity Dinners to hear what is on the minds and hearts of typical lay members of our churches is especially helpful to me. I covet these opportunities to listen to our laity.
Why? Because my understanding of the church is that the laity are the church. In fact, I believe that we clergy are laypersons who have been called by God and chosen by the church to be set apart for specific ministry tasks; but we are all a part of the laity, the people of God. That is why, in our United Methodist system, persons who are candidates for ministry must be first approved by their own local church laity. If those in one's local church don't support a candidate's movement into ordained ministry, then that candidate cannot move forward. We value the judgment of the laity. Likewise, that is why we have laity serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry, considering each candidate from the lay perspective and asking, "Would I want this person to be my pastor?" We value those judgments of our laity. For the same reason, bishops are elected by an equal number of lay and clergy delegates, chosen by their Annual Conferences to attend Jurisdictional Conference. All of us who are elected bishops are voted upon by lay delegates, because we value the judgment and discernment of laity.
With all due respect to the new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedictine XV1, that involvement of laity in decision-making is something which is missing in the election of a new pope. I heard one CNN commentator describing the conclave of cardinals, and he asked the obvious question, "How do ordinary Catholics get any into input in this process?" Well, other than prayer, which I do not discount, the answer is that they do not have any input.
I am proud to be a part of a system which values the input of laity, and I pledge myself to continue finding ways to listen to laity.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner