Are you busy?
“I bet you’re busy” is a common conversation opener when people realise I’m a minister. Even in church, the question is often on our lips. There is an intoxication in not denying it because we find validity and worth in our measures of output. We want to be busy doing stuff because it makes us feel indispensable and noticed. But I fear this quest for busyness is wrecking the very essence of what it means to be a minister, in my case a presbyter in the Methodist Church. The number of conversations I have had when people have told me of hospital admissions, death within the family or illness after the event because they didn’t want to disturb me because I’m busy. But it’s precisely those moments I am here for.
At the heart of all this is the distortion of our vocation. Ordination doesn’t commission us to do anything but it sets us apart to “be”. To be present in the word of God and the world and to hold each before the other, to be present in the sacraments to reveal God’s grace and to be present in the walk through life that we take together. Doing nothing is not lazy, instead it enables me to be.
Our being is thought of in three ways: in the word, in the sacraments and in pastoral care. But what does that mean exactly?
The Ministry of Word invites me to be soaked in the Word of God and read it, preach and teach it to allow God to bring life to the world. It invites me into way of being to interpret the sacred scriptures for a new generation. It invites me to read the world and weave together narratives that reveal God’s inherent beauty and mystery in grit and dirt of the world.
This means that I am to have my head in books, it means watching the news, it means overhearing conversations on the bus. It means sitting in a coffee shop and noticing the world go by and spotting where God is at work. It means figuring what feeds the narratives we listen to: what other people are reading and watching – even if that’s Eastenders! All of this seasoned with a life of prayer.
The ministry of the sacraments invites me to be present at Christ’s table and font to administer holy things so they become for all of us channels of God’s grace and places where we encounter Christ. It calls on me to take them seriously enough that they don’t become talismans of cheap grace but playfully enough that we welcome all and enable to continue to find new visions of God’s mystery.
The ministry of pastoral care calls us into relationship which is more than just a cup of tea and a fire side chat (although that is always part of it!) it’s about being present with you. It’s about sitting with you when life is unbearable, when you are wracked with guilt or fear or grief. It’s about helping you find peace with God. It’s about laying my hands on you and anointing you for healing. It’s about holding your loved one’s hand as they journey ahead of us from this world. It’s about celebrating the new birth, the engagement, the marriage, the new job and your birthday. It’s about being on the end of the phone when the darkness of the small hours is too much to bear alone. It’s about offering a tissue for your tears of pain and joy. It’s a presence because no one should go through this alone.
A ministry of pastoral care requires us to stand up to injustice and to challenge the systems of oppression. It requires us to be reconcilers and peacemakers.
This makes us sound very busy indeed. And perhaps we are, but I hope not busy in our doing but busy in our being and never too busy to hold God before the world and world before God in the moments of our hope or despair as we make our road by walking it together.