What is Mutual Ministry?


An ecclesiology in which: we see ourselves and the church as Christ’s agents in the world; we affirm that each of us is a minister empowered with gifts the Holy Spirit has given; and we, together, are a community of ministers, not a community gathered around a minister (Wes Frensdorf).

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Frequently asked questions about Mutual Ministry

– adapted from An Introduction to Total Ministry from the Diocese of Minnesota’s Commission on Ministry, 2005.

Mutual Ministry is a way of enabling the Ministry of All the Baptized. It is based in our theology of baptism, where we affirm that each baptized Christian is called to use their God given gifts for ministry. In some dioceses, a team of leaders is called within a congregation or a cluster to work together – such a team is often called a “ministry support team,” indicating that these leaders seek to involve as many members of the congregation as possible in various forms of ministry. Mutual Ministry is also called Shared Ministry, Collaborative Ministry, Team Ministry, or Total Ministry.

No. Some congregations or clusters who engage in Mutual Ministry may have seminary trained priests only as mentors and supervisors. Others may continue to have a full or part-time seminary trained priest who works with the team. The team works with the seminary trained priest to further the mission and ministry of the congregation or cluster. Many people who are engaged in Mutual Ministry have come to believe that God may have gotten the church’s attention via financial difficulties, but God then redirected us to pay attention to our baptismal vows.

It has its roots in both the Old and New Testaments. Here are a few passages you can read.

a. Numbers 11: 10-30 – God tells Moses to appoint 70 elders

b. Mark 3: 13-19 – Jesus appoints the Twelve

c. Luke 10: 1-9 – Jesus appoints 70 for Mission

d. I Corinthians 12: 4-13 – One body with many gifts

e. Ephesians 4: 1-13 – Gifts given to equip the saints for ministry

Mutual Ministry is a way of living out the Baptismal covenant, found in The Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305. The renewed vision of the Ministry of all the Baptized is emphasized in the Catechism, found in The Book of Common Prayer, page 855, in the section on “The Ministry.” The first question asks, “Who are the ministers of the Church?” The answer is, “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” “Lay persons” are intentionally listed first. The second question is, “What is the ministry of the laity?” “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”

In the Episcopal Church in the United States, Mutual Ministry (which may be known by other names as mentioned earlier) has been used in the Dioceses of Alaska, Nevada, Northern Michigan, North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Western Kansas, Western New York, West Virginia, and several others. In the Anglican Church of Canada, it is used in Rupertsland, Calgary, Qu’Apelle, Kootenay, and many others. It is also utilized in other parts of the Anglican Communion, including in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia, in Dioceses too numerous to mention here. In some Dioceses in England, it is used in urban areas as well as in towns and villages.

The Canons of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. provide for the licensing of a variety of Lay Ministries and for ordination to the diaconate and priesthood persons who are identified by their congregations and who study locally. The Bishop, Standing Committee, and Commission on Ministry in each Diocese set the guidelines for their Diocese in accordance with the national Canons.

The Canons provide for licensing Preachers, Eucharistic Ministers, Eucharistic Visitors, Worship Leaders (formerly called Lay Readers), and Catechists. Other equally important ministries that do not require licensing as such (but for which training and commissioning are offered) may include an Evangelist, a Team Coordinator, an Administrator, a Christian Education Coordinator, a Youth Leader/Advisor, Pastoral Care Ministers, an Intercessor, a Liturgist, a Stewardship Coordinator, and Musicians.

Ministry takes place in each Christian’s life situation, at home, at work, at school; in service to the world; and within the church. It is an adventure with God.

Mutual Ministry at Virginia Theological Seminary

In 2021, VTS was awarded a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. through their Pathways for Tomorrow initiative with the goal of strengthening and sustaining the capacities of theological schools to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian churches.

To meet these grant goals, VTS, through the Department of Lifelong Learning, created the Mutual Ministry Initiative (MMi) which works to meet the urgent need for clergy and lay leaders trained as ministry developers in local, culturally-specific contexts in a changing church landscape. Mutual Ministry offers an ecclesiology that reflects the ministry of all the baptized rather than a ministry centered around a paid, professional minister. The skills needed to lead and support congregations in this context have not regularly been taught by traditional seminaries.

MMi aims to integrate this training and knowledge into the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) curriculum and, through that, to impact the wider Episcopal Church (TEC).

Seminarian Austin Wednt discusses Missiological Principles and Practices with MMi Senior Advisor & Project Evangelist –The Rev. Canon Lydia Bucklin.

Bishops’ Collaborative

The Mutual Ministry Initiative’s Bishops’ Collaborative is a space for bishops in The Episcopal Church (and wider Anglican Communion) to engage and connect around an ecclesiology of baptismal, collaborative ministry amid a changing church. Bishop’s currently participating are from: Alaska; Central Gulf Coast; Eastern & Western Michigan; Edmonton (Canada); Hawai’i; Iowa; Kansas; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Montana; Navajoland; Newcastle (Australia); North Dakota; Northern Indiana; Northern Michigan; Rupert’s Land (Canada) and Southern Virginia.

Student Cohorts

The MMi Student Cohort is designed to be a place for seminarians to engage in intentional learning about Mutual Ministry, an ecclesiology that supports the ministry of all the baptized. The cohort runs November through May, each academic year, composed of those students who have attended a Visitors Weekend (an opportunity to experience Mutual Ministry in action) in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan.

“My time in Northern Michigan has truly changed the way I see church. Mutual Ministry is more than just a way of doing church, it is a way of empowering all the baptized to live into the calling God has placed on their life, regardless of what that looks like. I truly cannot fully articulate the way in which the Mutual Ministry Initiative has opened my eyes to all the opportunities for ministry that exist within our current congregational contexts without exhausting our current structures.”

– Hayden Paul, Student Body President, Diocese of Texas, M.Div. 24’

Core Team

Ian Markham, Project Director; Lisa Kimball, Project Advisor & Faculty Advocate; Lydia Kelsey Bucklin, Founding Director/Senior Advisor & Project Evangelist; Patricia Lyons, Lead Consultant; Kim Arakawa, Project Manager; Dana Jean, Research Assistant

Join the Conversation

The Living Waters Cooperative (LWC) is an open space to gather (primarily online) to share resources, stories, and conversation with those excited about the possibilities for re-imagining church through collaborative ministry models. MMi’s relationship with LWC allows us to be clearer about the scope and work our grant, knowing that another committed group can take on those projects and goals that fall outside the purview of theological education. The MMi core team regularly attends LWC monthly meetings; assists with task committees and leadership; and provides administrative support. For more information, EMAIL:

“Why am I participating in the Living Waters Collaborative? Because I need to be in the company of others committed to mutuality and a different approach to leadership.  Because I need the fellowship, the formation, the space to talk through issues, the reminder that I’m not alone in this walk. Because I need the constant reminder to be intentional and attentive, to be present and experience the presence of others who have a common focus on baptismal ministry and who have experience in this counter-cultural approach to life and ministry.”

— Dana Jean, Student Body President-Elect, MDiv 24’