23 Aug What do you do?
When people find out that I am a minister (and not the political kind) often their first question is ‘what do you do?’ Do you lead worship /mass/ services on Sundays? Often people struggle for the words to describe this. I answer that I do.
Then sometimes, the next question people ask is ‘but what do you do on the other days?’
The reality is that sometimes I struggle to answer this question.
Not because I don’t know what I do, but because at times the incredulity and dismissal in peoples’ voices gives the distinct impression that they think that I probably do nothing, or nothing of importance.
In response, I have to admit, sometimes I don’t see the point in trying to give words to the work I do.
However, I have been thinking recently that maybe this is a cop out on my part. So here is my belated answer to that question ‘what do you do?’…
My work as a minister is to be story keeper, a space maker and a listener.
Story is integral to Christianity. We cling to the Divine who spoke the universe into being, and then declared it to be good. We gather to the one we understand to be the Word made flesh. The Holy One with skin on who embodies the story. What is more, gospel accounts tell us that this Word, Jesus, tells story after story and calls us into the fabric, the warp and weft, of this Divine story in our own lives, as a community, and as individuals.
Part of my work is to tell this sacred story and to help people break open the ancient texts that hold this treasure, both on Sundays and throughout the week. This story keeping is sometimes done in formal teaching, writing, preaching and lecturing. Sometimes this is through informal conversations. This story keeping is also about proclaiming – and seeking to embody – the Divine’s ongoing desire for justice and compassion for all, as reflected in Jesus, especially for those considered the least by society. Accordingly, this story is also ‘told’ in work such as providing food security for the homeless, standing with people seeking asylum and making spaces of welcome for those who are often excluded, for example, members from the LGBTQI community.
I am a space maker. I don’t bring God with me in a box wherever I go, but often because our lives are crowded with fear and worry, doing and striving, part of a minister’s role is to help create space so that people can lean into the presence of Great Spirit who is already there and moving. This space making happens in worship, but also with individuals in pastoral encounters, in prayer, and with small groups in all kinds of contexts, throughout any given week. The wider implication of this space making, is that being part of a Jesus community is about creating collective space to lean into the Divine’s dreaming together, to be shaped by this experience of grace, and to become, over time, the kind of counter cultural communities that make this wild compassion open to all others.
Listening – without judgment or agenda and in confidence – is core to being a minister. Such listening is a rare commodity in our society and it is an enormous privilege to offer this. Attending in this way, means not being afraid of peoples’ raw pain, and life and death questions. My capacity to listen like this is grounded in knowing that my role is not to fix people (I am not the Messiah) but to attend to, and care for, the other. And to listen for the Divine’s whispering presence within the midst of the pain and the joy. Sometimes this listening may involve encouraging someone to seek therapy with a counsellor, sometimes this listening means bearing witness, sometimes this means weeping with those who weep.
This work of being a story keeper and space maker and listener is humble, ancient work that doesn’t fit easily into a one minute job description. It is not high status work and it can be easily overlooked. That is ok.
Being a minister of the Word (as ministers are called in the Uniting Church) is about being a counter cultural servant leader of the God who dares to break into our world in a completely unexpected way, as the humble, feast making friend, and, for me, it is about letting this one, the disruptive Divine, nourish me for this strange and beautiful work.
Rev Dr Sally Douglas