Lydia Bucklin is the Canon to the Ordinary for Discipleship & Vitality for the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. She works with communities of faith in Northern Michigan around areas of vitality and discipleship. This means she gets to accompany them in thinking about their dreams for ministry, ways to connect with their local communities, and around opportunities for developing the personal spirituality and faith of their members.
Open Ears and Hearts
Lydia grew up in the Episcopal Church, but never imagined she would be engaged in ministry in a professional way. Her passion has always been in areas of social change and care for others, with her university studies focused in social work and community organizing. She feels like she kind of stumbled into ministry with the sudden loss of her father and a real sense of urgency to find deeper meaning in her life.
Lydia loves people. Often congregations have joked that she is their biggest cheerleader. She genuinely believes every community of faith has all that it needs to do the work that God is calling them to do to heal their community and care for one another. In her words, “we just need to open our eyes and hearts to the gifts we’ve been blessed with and the opportunities to use those gifts. Where two or three are gathered Jesus is truly there and our small church communities have an impact far beyond their size.”
Lydia’s greatest blessing in ministry is in listening. Listening to stories of transformation, to dreams of what might be, to memories of what has been, there is gift in all of that, and new life always seems to sprout in the retelling of our stories.
For instance, like many churches across the U.S. today, Grace Episcopal Church in Ishpeming, Michigan, has faced a double-edged dilemma in recent years—rising building maintenance costs and steadily fewer Sunday worshippers covering those costs. Across the street, the Cognition Brewing Company was dealing with its own difficulties. Its owner’s ambition to create a welcoming space for community gatherings had run up against a bitter landlord dispute.
This year, with the support of Lydia, the Episcopal congregation and the brewery in this small Upper Peninsula city came together on a shared solution. Cognition Brewing is taking over ownership and maintenance of the 1902 church and eventually will move part of its brewing operations and a tap room there while opening the space to broader community use, in addition to the worship services that Grace Episcopal will continue to celebrate there.
The needs and missions of the church and brewery happened to align with each other. “It just ended up being a really good time and good movement of the Spirit that we started talking to each other,” Bucklin told Episcopal News Service.
The Challenge: Fear
The primary challenge in Lydia’s ministry is the fear that exists in local communities. Fear about not having enough, not being enough, not being able to survive, not having access to the sacraments, losing key members to death and illness; there just seems to be so much fear and, unfortunately, so much loss. Honoring that fear and loss while also making space for hope and possibility can be tricky. Being able to accompany congregations through that is such a gift to her, yet it also takes a lot of time and energy.
Lydia talks about Jesus a lot because it is important to her that we share the stories of Jesus’ love. Too many people in Lydia’s communities have been told that they are undeserving of Jesus’ love for a variety of reasons. Disputing that is important to her. Lydia has found that sharing that Jesus flipped the tables of oppression and always aligned himself with those on the margins has been important in reclaiming the person that Jesus was and is.
Collaborative ministry is essential in working with communities of faith. So often we have arranged ourselves as communities gathered around a minister rather than ministering communities. This model of “mother or father knows best” is so unhealthy and unsustainable. Recognizing the gifts of the community and welcoming those gifts and passions to be used is freeing and life-giving.
Prayer for Connectors and Collaborators:
Holy God, thank you for Lydia and all those like her who encourage and lead churches into new life. Help all of us to be reminded of the hope we have in you even in the midst of our fears about today and tomorrow. In Your holy name Jesus, Amen.
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