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I’m just sayin’…

April 15, 2014

Sometimes trying to live out the call of the kingdom of God ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Days filled with meetings, deadlines, proofreading, planning, cajoling, responding — this is so much of where the time goes.   These are not bad things — all necessary things in the life of any large organization.  Being in touch with people is important, and I’m always glad when I am able to connect with someone.  Yet try as I may to remember that this is part of the reality of ‘being church’, I also find myself saying, ‘Is this what being in ministry is all about?  The deep call of ministry I hear sounds more like the gospel imperative:  comforting those who mourn, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, binding the brokenness and wounds of a hurting world (including my own torn heart).

In the winter, a woman called Miriam and her sweet child came to me one night when I was still at work, wondering if they could spend the night in our Parish House, just one night so that they wouldn’t have to sleep on the street.  This woman was clean and educated, but she has the wrong papers and speaks another language, both barriers to her life in this city.  She wasn’t asking for money, and she refused it when I offered; she and her 12 year old daughter had no where to sleep.  I had to tell her no and help her find an alternative that would keep them both safe in the night.  I can tell you, I know that as ‘good stewards’ of God’s gifts, we must take care of that with which we have been entrusted.  The reality is that we can’t just throw open our doors for people to sleep here.  (Or can we?  A story of no room available for a traveling couple, one which we talked about not too long ago, does come to mind.)  The questions of homelessness and poverty and transience are complex, as are the answers to how best we are God’s stewards.

And yet….  Four floors, an unknown amount of square feet, all a gift of God in the middle of this big city.  (I’m not talking about the church itself, mind you,  just the Parish House.)  Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels almost wrong for it to sit empty when it does, when the needs are so great.  Locked gates every night to protect our property — is that what we are called to?   I wrestle with this, really wrestle with it all.  And it’s no different when I drive home, through the gate of my neighborhood to my rented house that is cool when its hot outside, warm when its cool outside, and well stocked with comforts and food and all manner of good thing.  Do I open my home to those who need a place to sleep?  How do I balance the needs of my family with the needs of those on the edges of society.  I haven’t brought any strangers home with me yet (although I have brought people who I know who are in need home with me and bore the consequences of an unhappy husband and blurry boundaries).

I have a savior complex, don’t I?  Part of my journey is to discern how to allow God to work through me to be present to others.  And in the process, God works in me, transforming me and guiding me and giving me wisdom and discernment, helping me begin to see what I can do, what I can’t do, and how to tell the difference.  How do I get out of the way?  One of my wise seminary professors (thanks, Jane) taught us that the ministry to which we are called as priests is to walk along side others, empowering them to do the work of discipleship.  That is where all the meetings and planning and responding and cajoling comes in — it is sometimes my task to help others find how God is calling them to be in ministry, calling them to be feeding the sick, clothing the naked, giving a cup of water in the name of Christ.  This is the fun stuff.  But it might not always be exactly what I’m called to do.  I can’t do everything to help everyone.  Sometimes I can’t do anything to help someone.  Maybe part of the work I’m supposed to be about is to help the people who gather here in this little corner of San Antonio so that when we leave, we become the hands and feet of God, we see the face of Christ in everyone they meet, we over and over reach out in love to help meet the needs of the many who come to our doors.

  1. Jane Patterson permalink

    Hi, Carol – I so appreciate your thoughts that I’ve also had many a time. Something in what you said made me picture the inside of a man’s suit jacket, the part under the collar where you can clearly see the lining and the stitches. It looks so workaday and haphazard, even under the collar of a well-tailored jacket. Sometimes there’s a wild stripey silk fabric used underneath there, and sometimes only a muted brown felt. Maybe that’s what it’s like to be in ministry – all you get to see is that lining. The beautiful outside exists also, but we don’t get to see it, or at least not all the time. We make a hundred decisions a day, many of them small and insignificant-seeming (should I put a comma here? what space is available for the altar guild meeting? can this agenda bear one more item?) and some are clearly significant (where can this mother and her daughter sleep safely tonight, and what are the implications of my decision for the church)? Mostly we just stitch and stitch, strengthening something we only rarely get to see.
    I hope Holy Week gives each of us at least a glimpse of the outside… Jane

    • Thanks, Jane. Yes, I get glimpses of the outside — many of them, in the loving face of Christ which shines through in the people here. There is beauty in the bits and pieces, in the stitches and threads and stripes of the silk or of the felt, and in the whole cloth of the outside. I didn’t mean to sound like I despair, because I don’t. And the same is true in my own life. The challenge is to keep trying to remember the Big Picture — the jacket of which I am a part of the overall love and care. Keeping the vision of the kingdom helps me in all the little moments of the day, the small decisions, the perspective. I’m so thankful for the wisdom you have shared and for walking this path before me — I benefit so much from you and all those who have walked these paths.

Go ahead, say it. Would love to hear your thoughts!

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