Some powerful quotes on ministry
For me August is set aside as a kind of sabbatical month. I’ve been using some of the time to try and bring some order to the myriad of papers and electronic documents that I have collected over 30+ years of ordained life. No small task, and one I’ve been undertaking in small bites!
There has been plenty of blessing, not just from the relief of binning all sorts of burdensome piles of bumph that I’ve accumulated, but much more in the reminders that have come from long lost treasures.
Here are three that I must have gathered at least 25 years ago, and which I’ve had pinned on my wall, but if I’m honest, barely glanced at since.
Henri Nouwen, whose writings brought great light to my thinking about ordained ministry in my final year of theological training and have resourced me again and again since, has so much wisdom about the role of the minister and reminds us that pastoral ministry is not about stopping suffering, but is about stopping people suffering for the wrong reasons. Its an appeal for a discernment when ministering to help people find freedom from the unfreedoms that undermine and impose guilt. To say no to them, but yes to the call to accepting the cost that comes from acknowledging mortality and brokenness.
Maude Petre powerfully explores the vulnerability of Christ on the Cross – the place where pain and love are revealed to be united in God. Her words so helpfully speak to the depth of emotion I know I begin to touch as I preside at the altar and makes the experience profound and transforming.
The Uniting Church of Australia offers some helpful discerning thinking about what ministry is and isn’t. Its not the most poetic piece of liturgy, but its invitation and challenge to address ‘each person at the level where change operates’ resonates deeply with the longings of my soul, my vocation.
Where do they take you?
The Main Task of Ministry – to stop people suffering for the wrong reasons
Perhaps the main task of a minister is to prevent people from suffering for the wrong reasons. Many people suffer because of the false supposition on which they have based their lives. That supposition is that there should be no fear or loneliness, no confusion of doubt. But these sufferings can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds integral to our human condition. Therefore ministry is a very confronting service. It does not allow people to live with illusions of immortality and wholeness. It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberation starts.
Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, pg 93.
Vulnerability, Love and Presiding at the Eucharist
On Calvary, on the altar, Christ makes himself not invulnerable, but vulnerable. He lays himself bare to the hand of friend and enemy alike. On the cross, he was one great wound from head to foot, the nerves that should be hidden were exposed, the body was rent and open, the tenderest touch of his mother’s hand would have inflicted the keenest agony, for those nerves and muscles which should be covered, lay exposed and bare. As so it must always be in proportion as we love. It is an inevitable result of love upon this earth, that, in loving, we give to the beloved the power of paining us; and the greater our love the greater also the corresponding power. For to love is, as it were, to lay heart and soul open to our friend; it is to strip ourselves, not only of all artificial armour, but even of the covering that nature herself provides for the feelings and the heart. And this is the love that Christ has for all men: the best and the worst have power to wound because he gives it to them, by the mere fact of his love. We cannot love as he did, and therefore we cannot, ever were we willing, become vulnerable as he was, for the one is in proportion to the other. He loved all, we love only a few, he loved intensely and continuously, we love only feebly and in fits and starts. But in every mass we have a reminder of that love, deeper than we can comprehend.
Maude Petre in ‘The Hidden Tradition’ ed Lavinia Byrne.
We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.
We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to be that.
We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees and activity organisation; that is already implied in your membership of the church.
We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues; for that is laid upon every Christian.
We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular – to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak to people today; to remember and practise those rituals and rites of meaning that their poetry addresses each person at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with the truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ. We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacrament and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but to uphold it, not to deny but to affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
From the ordination service of the Uniting Church of Australia.