October 4, 2007

Back door ministry

There are lots of folks who have traditional -- maybe even conventional -- ministries, but I am not one of them. From the very beginning, I seem to have done things outside the accepted norm. A friend once observed that, from ordination on, I had come to ministry through the back door. He was right, but he spoke a deeper truth, perhaps, than he realized.

The back door of my little house leads into the kitchen.
It is usually a calm and serene place. An old stained glass window colors the light red and blue and green. Measuring cups hang on the wall, and there is an antique towel rack and a chalk board made of a piece of slate from the roof of my grandmother's house. The space is bright and cozy, a tiny room, but when friends come, that is often where we end up, all crowded around the preparation and the food. When I am in the midst of some big project, it gets messy and disordered, with pots in the sink, spills on the counter, crumbs on the floor. I always want things to turn out well, and often they do. Invariably, there is something interesting (maybe not always good....) that emerges from that mess. But then again, there are times that no matter how well I follow directions, no matter how much time and attention I devote, no matter how fresh the ingredients, my efforts result in failure. I cook my heart out, and nothing edible comes of it. But I can never linger too much on what went wrong, when there is always another meal to think of. Usually, I find something nourishing in the pantry or fridge but there are times when there is nothing that seems to feed me. And in all of this, the culinary successes and the failures, I keep on trying -- trying new recipes and techniques, trying to improve my old skills, trying to find ways to keep body and soul together and well fed. And I do that every day, over and over again.

My kitchen is a daily parable of my ministry. I am often called to those places behind the scenes, places and events where a lot of the work
necessary to keep things going and to sustain people gets done. My ministry is not the formal "living room" kind but rather where folks stand around talking. Yes, I have worked in churches and am doing that now, but these have always been temporary positions. I have done substitute preaching, stated supply, interims, and transitional pastorates. I have stayed as long as several years in a church and as short as one Sunday. I have gone for extended stretches with no church to call home. But I have always had ministry. It has been messy sometimes, I have known failure and disappointment, and there have been times when the work was simply exhausting. I have hungered for substance when there was nothing but staleness and leftovers. But every now and then, I have put my heart into something new and challenging and have had it all come together in ways far better than I could have envisioned. And often this ministry of mine is a source of serenity and light.

As a "Martha," I am at home in this kitchen that is my ministry. I love creating a place of hospitality. I love feeding people with the Word. I love doing the work needed to prepare for the visit of Jesus. And I also struggle with resentment against my sisters, and brothers, who are in the living room doing the formal entertaining. But I also claim this gospel truth as my own: "... Jesus loved Martha ..." (John 11.5). And I remember that the one whose name I bear recognized and understood his calling when almost no one else did, and I am sustained and nourished by my own recognition of the Christ who comes to me.

I hope to offer reflections here that sustain and nourish, that comfort and renew, that invite others to embrace and thrive in their own unconventional ministries. We all have a ministry, a calling. I'll share my views on mine, and I'd love to know what's cooking with you!

1 comment:

David said...

Your comments lead me to stretch your metaphor and think of my spiritual/faith journey in the same way. I find myself wanting to leave the "formal entertaining" in the living room or I choose not to go in at all. I am drawn to the open possibilities and variables of the outside.
I would not want to be in the "living room" if being there means that I am part of or seen to be part of a group that;
- says you must believe this, think this, practice this, say this in this way, give allegiance as a member, which draws a circle so that some are in and others out.
- "claims that it's the only true religion" E. Pagels.
- does not reject the fear, hatred, disssension, cruelty, & savagery done in the name of God in the past
-claims to know and understand the will, mind, word, and thoughts of God, and
- that seeks easy answers and does not revel in the awe of the mystery,
- wants to define God and thereby make heaven and God so small
- does not see that God is alive, living, and doing, through contemporary thoughts, interpretations, words and actions of people today,
and - does not include all people, all life
Then, when that is present, I want to run from the "formal entertaining" in the living room and seek that which gives meaning to my life and fills me, and I find myself outside. Perhaps I'm in a canoe on a lake, by the ocean, looking up at the trees and sky, with family, with friends, working in a community, helping others, trying to do good, seeking my spiritual life, my faith, my ministry in other places.
Yet, I am also pulled by the feeling I get from the celebration, community, ceremony, pagentry, and yes performance of a good service in the "living room". But, not when I hear expressions of, or feel the inference toward some of the above.
So it is a wandering search, - perhaps "homeless", and that's OK, because that's where I find God and learn what Jesus (as I understand him) is trying to tell me.
Yet, when I come in and look for comfort, companionship, and truth, I enter the back door, and I stay in the kitchen, and help with the food because that where all my friends are crowded together, and where life is real, and the food is good.