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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Ministry Matters, but only if you minister

Someone I know of, but haven't ever met, recently had a bad day at the office, and he wrote about it here. I have had the same sinking feeling of hopelessness myself over the years, and can sympathize with his frustration and anger, and even the sense of letting Christ down by not being able to help people on the margins of society. For that he feels his ministry was of no avail...maybe it was, but he really didn't do much "ministry." What he did, at least so he records, is what any decent social worker or health care professional would have done. The stuff that "ministers" usually do he never even mentions in his article.

For example, ministers usually talk about God, and how God might look at or respond to a situation. That's an important part of ministry for many people, both ministers and non-ministers alike, and yet nowhere does he offer to the people "on the margins" a note of God's hope that their world will make sense at some time. (Maybe not now as we're escorting you out the door.) He never mentions prayer with the people, never brings up the power of sacraments to change lives, and doesn't discuss how joining communities of faith can often lead to deeper discernment and life-changing decisions. These are things of ministry, these are the things ministers do. You can't really say, as he does, that ministry doesn't matter if you never do ministry. You should at least try it before you lament its paucity.

I too once had a young alcoholic sit at my desk as I tried to find help for him. Treatment centers were full, closed, and too expensive for this man to try and manage his alcoholism this night. As we went to our little kitchen to rustle up a dinner for us, we passed our sanctuary. Have you ever been in one of these before, I asked? He said no, but he'd heard of them, and people talked a lot about how you could sleep in the one in downtown Minneapolis. (At the time, this was true, one of the congregations in Minneapolis allowed homeless people to sleep in its sanctuary in extreme cold weather--which in Minnesota is every day from November to May.)

So we went in, and passed the baptismal font at the entrance. Want to wash your hands and face, I asked? He did. We walked up to the chancel and altar rail, knelt down, and looked up at the cross and altar before us. We breathed. After a while he asked, what do I do now? I looked at him, do you have anything you want to say to God?


Go ahead. I'm not sure there's much food in the kitchen anyhow. And he began to talk to God about his hopes, his hatreds, his fears, and-in nudging- even a few of his good times. After about 10 minutes he stopped, and asked me, Do you want to say anything, I've been hoggin' all the time?

Yes. Thanks, was all I said.

We got up and went to the kitchen and to the cheesy tortillas and lemon bars. compliments of last night's youth dinner, he added a fifth of Jim Beam. We set a table, used our good china, and had a meal. I didn't stop his alcoholism, in fact, I probably encouraged it. But I did show him a different way of living, a different place of being in this world...that's what ministry is...and that's why it matters. Ministry can't save anyone, but it can show everyone that God cares. And even though Mr. Piatt felt inadequate that day, he did do that, and as he discovered-- sometimes that about all you can do.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

1 comment:

kent said...

Sometimes the most we can do is share a meal with one another in the presence of the triune God.