Sunday, September 2, 2012
From Koinonia: Choose Me!
“HERE AM I, CHOOSE ME! CHOOSE ME!” AN APPENDIX TO “A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 141: REDISCOVERING THE SACRAMENT OF UNCTION Hard as it is to get anyone to agree to undertake any form of ministry in the church, I am about to lay upon you an additional impediment. Never ask for, or accept, volunteers. At least, not quickly, spontaneously, or without the same vetting and discernment process that is in place for others being considered. Oh, there is not such a process in place? Then make one. This is important. Here’s why. All ministry roles require contact with other human beings. Such ministers, lay or ordained, staff members or volunteers, represent the church. It is imperative that they do so with charity, hospitality, humility, good humor, graciousness, and generosity of spirit. They require the trust and respect of the congregation. Perhaps most of all, they need an attitude of selflessness. They need the capacity to remove themselves from the picture and focus on God and the person needing the ministry. Would that all those attributes applied to everyone in our congregations, but alas, that is not always the case. These ministries are too important just to assign to the first person who says, “I’d like to do that.” When was the last time the easy way turned out to be the best way? There is no ministry role in the church that just anyone is equipped to do effectively. Sadly, very often the ones who want the role are the least capable of it, or at least the ones most likely to make it all about themselves. Whether the congregation needs a lector, a chalicist, a lay Eucharistic visitor, a catechist, a pastoral visitor, a volunteer receptionist—or a new Rector-- the fact is that it would be better to leave that ministry undone for a while than to put in place someone not suited for the role. Suppose you want to institute a healing prayer ministry that includes both lay and ordained healing ministers. The priest member of the team is to offer the sacrament of unction, the anointing with oil. The lay member(s) of the team will join with the priest in the laying on of hands, with prayer silent or spoken. Imagine the consequences to the ministry, and to the sick person, if the one laying on hands is a gossip, a busy-body, or a bottomless pit of personal, emotional neediness, intent (consciously or unconsciously) on siphoning off as much as possible of the spiritual power present for their own aggrandizement! Ouch! That sounds harsh! I do not charge all volunteers with such ulterior motives. In such a scenario, you might well receive a volunteer who would make an outstanding, superlative healing minister for the congregation. The problem is, you would get one or more of those others, as well. The purpose of discernment is valuable for both, to fathom which is which. If the process is disappointing to the one not discerned to have the charism for a particular ministry, it is in equal measure encouraging and empowering to the one affirmed in that role. I am not saying that the ordained are exempt from any such hazards, for they are not. However, the clergy have experienced an extensive examination requiring the approval of a number of persons at many levels prior to their ordination or call as rector/priest-in-charge. The lay ones need to undergo a similarly careful consideration. The dangers are that grave. The bottom line is to remember that you are not soliciting persons to come forward to take on a particular ministry role in the congregation. You are seeking recommendations of persons to enter the process of discernment possibly leading to selection and preparation for such a role. What a huge and important distinction that nuance makes!