This academic year I’ll be a field supervisor for a seminarian at Boston University’s School of Theology. The course, contextual education, requires its field supervisors be approved by the theological school. The school has a course for first-time supervisors like me. So, I spent the day at the seminary.
We have to exegete (a fancy seminary word for interpret) our site of ministry for our next class. As I’m an intentional interim pastor between churches, I don’t have a current formal site of ministry, and I probably won’t have one before our next class. Expressed in a secular way, I’m an unemployed pastor (Just a bit of trivia: As a pastor in pastoral ministry, I don’t get unemployment insurance.) Yet, I am doing ministry, just I don’t always get paid for it. (I recently prepared the bulk of Pittsfield’s community reflection for Sept. 11).
Even had I not gotten lost in Boston looking for the Mass Pike after class, I still would have had a long drive home. I thought on and off about the assignment when I realized that our site of ministry can be in the moment. Ministry can happen when we are with people, wherever we are.
Although I serve a church (when I have one), I also teach some of the non-credit computer courses, specifically the Microsoft Office Suite, at the local community college. Whenever I teach I always mention that I am ordained clergy during my introduction. I quickly tell them that I’m not trying to proselytize, but rather I don’t want them to be shocked when I tell them how I use the software.
Some are curious and ask me where I serve. Most of the time and for most of the students, however, my ministry status doesn’t matter.
Every once in awhile, though, it does matter. Years ago I taught a PowerPoint class and was teaching the students how to make tables. I poked around and found some data they could organize. If I remember correctly, it was a comparison of expenditures for the military and social programs. (So, it was a sort of silent sermon.) Most of the students worked very hard to organize the data, but one student actually looked at the data. After class she made a comment about the data; they surprised her and the point they made was pretty distressing. I replied that I live with a lot of this stuff everyday. She then replied that she was glad she didn’t have my job.
Another time, several years ago, I had a very poignant encounter. During a class break a woman, looking very troubled, came to me and told me that her late husband had died a few years earlier. She then said that a friend of hers told her that her husband didn’t go to heaven because he didn’t go to church. She asked me if her friend was right. I replied that I believe he did go to heaven because God’s love for us is absolutely unconditional. She returned to her seat visibly relieved.
The students always completes evaluations of me after I finish the class. I collect them and turn them in. I often don’t read them, but one time I noticed on one evaluation a student wrote, “I have never felt so supported in a computer class.”
I don’t want to imply that I’m a functioning as a minister 24/7. Still, ministry has thoroughly become a part of me and that when a situation arises where being a minister is appropriate, that’s the way I respond. Especially in today’s context. When 17% of the people attend worship regularly regardless of theology or denomination, if we only think ministry takes place in our churches or hospital rooms or seminaries, we miss too many opportunities to remind people of the gospel and the transformational power of radical, inclusive love. Ministry can take place in classrooms, supermarkets, theater lobbies, and even bars. We don’t have to wear our robes or don our stoles.
Ministry happens whenever we proclaim the good news in our words and deeds. It happens when we can help people get a glimpse of God’s reign of peace and justice as an alternative to the organization of our secular world. It happens when we can remind people that God’s steadfast love overflows and that no one is undeserving of that love. Ministry is not determined by our robes or other furnishings related to our office. Actually, ministry isn’t even the exclusive domain of the clergy.