The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, . . . ." (Ephesians 4:11-12a, NRSV)
In the months following my call to become New Hampshire's Conference Minister, I lamented with a colleague, "So where is the ministry in this?" My question was not answered directly. In fact, it was ignored. I had come to the New Hampshire Conference directly from parish ministry with the notion that I could engage in this ministry with a pastor's heart. I did not want to become a manager, but hoped to remain a minister as I continued to live out God's call and claim in my life. The role of Conference Minister requires that one be an astute and competent manager. It goes with the territory. My question persisted for a long time: So where is the ministry in the midst of the management?
In recent days, I have come to answer to my own question. When I described the type of engagement that I have with churches of the Conference, a friend pointed out that this is ministry. Showing up in settings where folks are sad and conflicted, confused and angry is ministry. Even when there is no clear path through the tangle of feelings, a willingness to show up, to be present, and engage with others is ministry. Curiously, I had never really stopped to consider this. It was a break-through moment. I am glad that my colleague had not offered a quick and simplistic answer years ago, and that I was given the opportunity to discover it for myself through the diligent practice of this ministry.
Yesterday after worship, as I visited with the pastor and members of Monadnock Congregational United Church of Christ, I asked, "How might we bridge the geography between Colebrook and Pembroke?" This local church is farther from our "Conference Center" than any other. Afterward, a member approached to say, "Our pastor is the one who keeps us connected. She helps to keep us connected with God. That's the most important connection of all." And, that's ministry! Ministry is connecting and building up everyone in their relationships with God and each other . . . and with the world where God moves us to love and serve with Christ. I am grateful for this local church and its faithful, creative witness . . . and I am grateful for this pastor who makes ministry real in the life of her members. It was a wonderful day in this ministry.
Yes, I have learned much in the past week. Being a faithful administrator and manager of the resources of the New Hampshire Conference, United Church of Christ is ministry. Engaging in ministry--connecting and being present through seasons of celebration and sorrow--sitting prayerfully with the perceptions and experiences of others--this is truly holy work. This is my ministry. Thanks be to God!
O God, send your Holy Spirit upon every minister of the church, including this one! Help us to be and to do, following wherever Jesus leads us to minister. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, and grant us peace. Amen.