Ministry Within the Margins

My friends are amazing, they do amazing things, they serve God and people in ways I only admire. They walk the streets, they listen, they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned in a way that puts my faith to shame. Or they have created communities out of nothing, out of thin air, in coffee shops, store fronts, art galleries. They’ve been arrested at protests, they’ve fed people in parks without permits, they’ve changed laws for the better, written books…

They minister on the margins.

My call is not the same as theirs, I have made peace with this. I still think they are amazing. But my call is much more traditional. In my group of rouge friends my call is the exception, not the norm. This is of course not the case for the majority of ministers, mainline ones that is. We have an office in a church, we program out of that church, we struggle to be “in” our community or with sprawling suburbs like I’m in, we start by asking the question, “what is our community?”

Regardless one of the issues of ministering in the suburbs is that the majority of contact I have with parishioners between Sundays are on social media or texting or email. This isn’t a problem for me really, in fact I’ve enjoyed it quite a lot. The first 7 years in my call I had constant contact with parishioners and members of the community. This was a refreshing change. Until this week.

I forgotten how sacred it is to minister in the middle of Target, or the grocery, or a restaurant. In the last 3 days I have had the opportunity to minister where people are, where they are living. Visiting them at home is also a sacred gift but it’s not the same either. I can’t tell you how many cups of tea or coffee I’ve had out of formal living rooms in which I don’t think are ever sat in. Nonetheless. Running into someone without makeup, in their sweats, who just came in to “grab a few things” is wonderful.

“How’s your dad?”

“Are you doing okay?”

“How was choir rehearsal last night?”

“What’s the mumbling about that decision that was made”

“I got your email about so-and-so, I’ll check in on them next week”

And they’ll respond in kind, not just asking me how my visit with my mom is going or how they saw that picture I posted on Facebook and it is just adorable, but in an honest real way. “How are you doing? This time of year must be hard.”

“How’s your dad?” becomes a conversation on the resiliency of the body to sustain after not eating or had anything to drink in a week, in the exhaustion of waiting for a parent on hospice to die, on a visit to the funeral home and cemetery, on family dynamics. Tears, an exchange of prayers, a genuine touch. All in the center aisle at Target or at Wegmans while people are trying to get around us.

This all takes an extra 5 minutes but it’s real, genuine ministry.

Last night we took our kids and youth to the nursing home and caroled for them. The kids started singing “Jingle Bells” and a man burst into tears of joy. We sang for about an hour amongst smiles, laughter, tears.

All of these ministerial opportunities are “normal” “typical” and well within the margins of ministry. They are expected and comfortable. Yet, I could not help but be reminded yesterday as I watched the faces of the kids singing to people their great-grandparents age, that in our search to do ministry on the margins, we must remember how vital it is to minister within them. Vision should include both. Thanks for the reminder.

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