February 28, 2011

the world is my parish

Bishop Trimble recently reminded a group of young clergy that we are not appointed to congregations... we are appointed to communities.

It was something I had not really considered before he made that statement... and it was a refreshing thought.

In many ways, I had assumed that my ministry was both in my church and in the community that surrounds it.  That's kind of the way my missionally-minded brain works.

But since he spoke them out loud, I have really taken his words to heart and have felt emboldened in the work I do "out there."

If I'm honest, it might be one of my favorite parts of my job. 

Way back when... okay, only three or four years ago... wait... holy crap... seven or eight years ago!... I thought I was called to be a deacon.  I felt that my ministry was as much about being out in the world as it ever was to be in a congregation.  I heard God calling me to be a bridge between the church and the world.  And that is the essence of what I understood the ministry of a deacon to be.

But then this little whisper started to tug at my soul.  It was the sacraments.  The bread and the wine and the water kept speaking to me.  And then they took hold.  My ministry might include the world... but God was also calling me to use the church as the vehicle of my ministry.  God was calling me to break bread as much as he was calling me to break barriers.

Long story short... my journey has come full circle.  I am now an ordained elder with sacramental authority AND I get to work in my community. God had a plan long before I could ever see it or understand it.

I've blogged before about my outreach and relationship building through funerals and weddings in the larger community. I have been the main organizer around the community worship in the park for the last two years - an amazing opportunity to share in worship with one another AND to share in the one loaf and the one cup.

What I have not done as well in my first three years of ministry was to get involved actively transforming the community.  But this year, my work with youth got to me.  I realized I had to go deeper to help them.  And somehow I'm now on a school improvement advisory committee and hosting an ongoing conversation about how the community can better support and encourage our youth.

This work is so completely different from what I do on a day to day basis in the church. Much of that difference has to do with having the authority of a pastor.

My ministry in my congregation is ministry "with"  not ministry "for." I am not someone who throws around my weight... instead I see my role as empowering my people to do ministry themselves.  I would rather work alongside my parishoners than lead them.

But in the community, the role of the pastor takes on a different flavor.  As one youth parent said a couple of weeks ago, "When I go to the school office and talk about a problem, it's more of the same.  When Pastor Katie says something, they listen." 

To be honest, that authority scares me a little.  But it is also exciting.  God has put me in a place where I can speak on behalf of these parents and I have a powerful voice.  God has put me in a place where I can make connections between people and provide a literal space for those new relationships. God has put me in a place where I have a real and tangible ability to make a difference. 

Tonight, our little community group met again.  And while the start of this journey is small and the momentum is slow, I can already sense the possibilities.  I am energized by the true and living hope that God is doing something in Marengo.  And I pray with thanksgiving that I get to be a part of that work.

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