Stories of Transformation: Finding God and “Ministry With” in the Ordinary
- Apr 26th, 2013
Editor's note: This post is part of a series of stories of personal transformation of those in ministry with the poor and marginalized, inspired by the life and witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
When I think about how working with the poor or marginalized has transformed my life, I often find myself returning to the dramatic life-changing stories of my teen and college years. I like telling the story of when I helped repair a house and in the process learned that God will call me to do things and equip me with all I need to answer that call.
Another favorite story is about when I spent an entire week simply holding the hands of dental patients while they had teeth removed and realized that God sometimes only needs us to offer our presence.
I met an eighty year old woman who taught me the proper way to clean copper pots (with salt and vinegar). I also met a mother who would rise after only three hours of sleep to ensure her daughter Shelby ate breakfast before school. These women taught me lessons of faithfulness and perseverance.
These are examples of transformational moments that have shaped my faith story. In these, I can see where God taught me to be patient, to honor difference in others, to love my neighbor, to serve, and participate in the world becoming a more beautiful place.
More importantly, I grew increasingly aware that I was only a visitor in each case, present for four days among the many years of my lifetime. What were powerful experiences to me may not have had as deep an impact for the people I visited. In fact, these powerful memories comprise a very small portion of my own lifetime. I reflected upon the value of my own life in between the powerful epiphanies, especially whether those days of studying, writing papers, and attending service club meetings were pointless in comparison to the impact of service trips and projects.
Eventually I planned a mission trip as a youth director. I collected permission forms and medical releases, rented a van, organized chaperones, and liaised with local organizations to set up work sites. I took a trip to Costco to purchase snacks and water bottles, wrote a packing list for the kids, ordered t-shirts, and held dozens of meetings with worship planners. The entire planning process was an exercise in managing details, endless details, and even more microscopic details. But on the third day of our project, one of the youth turned to me and shared an epiphany she had just had. And I learned that what look like tiny details actually can be the seeds of big lessons.
There is a certain grace in the details. So much of the daily work of any ministry is unglamorous. We sometimes plan and plan and plan some more, getting bogged down in the details, all the while trusting that they will lead to moments of transformation, epiphany, true “ministry with.” I have also come to see ministry with the poor as more expansive than ministry with those who are materially poor, but inclusive of ministry with all people who are marginalized by society and the church.
Here at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, I occasionally hear clear cases where a woman is passed over for an appointment or demeaned. Far more often, the questions I hear are more mundane. “How can I help my church understand the Bible’s support for ordaining women?” “I’d like to encourage young and inexperienced clergywomen, how should I begin?” or even, “I’d like to encourage my community to say ‘men and women’ when referring to humanity, but they refuse, what do I do?”
On the surface, these are not crises, and it would be easy to think that these are not disciple-making opportunities. But inviting women into leadership is faithfulness to God’s call that we make disciples of all people!
It is easy to cite the highlights of women’s inclusion in the United Methodist Church. In 1956, women gained the full right to ordination, but in 1972, less than 1% of appointed clergy were women. Today, women are more than 27% of our appointed clergy and almost 20% of our active bishops. That growth happened slowly. We moved forward in 1976, when a few more women were ordained than previously and continued when the Georgia Harkness scholarship was established to assist second-career women in seminary.
The church continued forward in 1980 when we elected Majorie Swank Matthews, our first woman bishop, in 1984 with the election of Leotine Kelly, and in 2004 when we elected Minerva Carcaño. Every woman who is encouraged in ministry and every man who commits himself and his ministry to equity and faithful respect move our church one more step in the right direction.
The church continues to move towards full equality every time a woman is encouraged to serve in any position in a church which was traditionally male or when men are celebrated for taking on new roles. Fathers can be great nursery volunteers, and one of my favorite childhood Sunday School teachers was Mr. Allen! Whenever someone encourages a woman to break down a stained glass ceiling, it makes our whole church stronger.
For the church and our lives, the most frequent days of “ministry with” are days like today, when we read and answer emails, participate in meetings, and attend to our details. We do not know when they will sprout into powerful lessons, but we do know that the Holy Spirit is working, preparing us for whatever might come, and equipping us for the next epiphany.
About This Blog
Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.