I’ve not been writing lately. It seems that the cold/sinus/allergy plague has taken over. Yuck. Energy is low for much beyond the necessary. In spite of it all, I have been delighted by the energy and spirit of the congregation in these fall days. Fall is indeed the time when many who are without a church are looking for a church home and church members are returning after summer Sundays away. We have welcomed some wonderful folks this fall and I pray that each experiences God’s Spirit in the life and ministry of the congregation. This fall we are beginning a new spiritual nurture group called Soul Care which will meet twice a month. One of the challenges in a small congregation is to develop a range of different ministries without over-stretching the core of the congregation.
Lately I find myself in a new (for me) depth of prayer. It is a kind of prayer that at some moments seems to draw me closer to people, yet at other times draws me apart and into myself. Even in those ‘apart’ times, when I am less interactive with people, I feel connected and close. I often see their faces and hear their needs and concerns in prayer. It is as if each one is held before God; in God’s light. This past Sunday, I was an the adult class and though I was so appreciative of the comments of others, I found myself just soaking in the faith and depth of those in the class. I did not want to talk. I wanted to listen; to receive the expressions of faith they offer so abundantly. I realized later that I was, in essence, praying through the class. It was like lectio divina with the text being the experiences and the faith of the people in that room.
I am a late-night person; definitely not a morning person. I think a part of what I love about the night is the ability to be to myself — to think, to read, to write, or even if I’m watching television, to absorb and reflect — to pray. The night brings a sense of connectedness with God, and a clarity of thought and insight that is different from the day. Night is when the creative juices flow for worship and sermon preparation. The difficulty, of course, is that the world and most of the ‘doing’ parts of ministry live by day. Perhaps that is what makes the night so precious.
At times I feel that ministry is filled with activists and extroverts, who pray and relate in different ways than I do. It seems that with the years, I become even more of who I am. For many of these 25 years in ministry, I have tried to push myself ‘out’ when I am drawn ‘in’. There is nothing wrong with working on the other side — the less dominant side — of our very complex selves. It makes it possible for me to relate in rich ways, to engage with God’s people. Yet, in these days I want to explore the contemplative side; to both allow it and nurture it.
The challenge is to integrate this into the practice of congregational ministry. This brings me to consider my assumptions about pastoral ministry. What does it look like for pastoral ministry to be a ministry of prayer? a ministry of presence? What kind of leader am I evolving into? How can my contemplative leaning come together with the gifts of others in the congregation to effect a strong and integrated ministry? I realize that our congregation’s focus on becoming a community of prayer may have been my desire to live in a community of prayer. I do believe that the process and result of this movement has been good in many ways, however I am realizing my own needs and motivations in it. Hmmm. More for reflection.
This evening 12 of us gathered at the church to watch and discuss the movie “Amistad”. This was a part of our denomination’s Reconciliation Ministry focus. Reconciliation is our ministry to end racism. The movie “Amistad” has been around for several years, however this year’s focus is rooted in the 200th anniversary of the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain.
The discussion this evening was very good; ranging from the specifics of the movie to the challenges of healing the racism in our community in St. Louis; to the racism and cultural alienation at work in American forays into other countries, such as Iraq at this time. There is so much in this hard, hard story, but the central theme that emerged in our discussion was the importance of learning and telling the story of each person. How easily we categorize people and then essentially forget that we are all people of God. When we do not understand the language and the culture of another, it is all too easy to forget that this person, or these people, are as deeply human as we are.
For the first few minutes of the movie, we, the hearer, do not understand the language spoken, and the subtitles give us no help. This section of the film lasts long enough to evoke frustration. It is a profoundly effective preparation for the language and culture gap that must begin to be bridged for the trial of Cinque and the other 43 African people from the slave ship La Amistad. We see both the African and American people making assumptions about each other and about the motivations of the other, when language and actions are not understood. One of the members of our group noted that we see and interpret others through different lenses.
In the film we hear court debates about whose property the “cargo” of the Amistad is; Spain, Cuba, the United States? There was an ability to carry on the conversation about property without ever considering that the “cargo” consisted of human beings who were no one’s property. Their fate would depend on their story being told. Not what they were, but who they were.
We are no longer in the days of the Amistad. However, we still limit the freedom and abundant life of God’s people because we do not learn and tell each other’s story. We do not get past what we have labeled someone to be, to learn who that person is. It is true across the lines of race, but also cultures and subcultures, sexual orientation, political party, age, and gender. In learning to share our stories, we can set each other free, and live into God’s Realm of Peace. The challenge is that it takes work to “hear each other into speech” (is that phrase from Nell Morton?).
Let it be.