Ministry Matters

On the 44th anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons in The Episcopal Church

O’er these years of ordained ministry, how oft has it happened when people, in public settings, have asked: “What do you do?”

Countless times.

And how oft has it happened when I answer, they, quickly, change the subject?

Countless times.

Long ago, I learned not to judge their intent. As if I could know! Although, still, I wonder…

Did they have troubling experiences with institutional (which, depending on one’s point of view, may be termed “organized” or “disorganized”) religion?

Or was their formative religious instruction too doctrinaire, thus, more dispiriting than inspiring or too laissez-faire, thus, less than useless in the face of life’s hard questions?

Or did they see me as “professionally-pious” and “holier-than-thou,” thus, someone living (dying!) to engage them in conversation about religion (“Do you know Jesus?” or “Have you been saved?” or “You need to be saved!”)?

Any or all of the above? Or something else, something more or less? Thus, in any case, anything remotely religious being the-last-thing they would choose to discuss?

I don’t know.

And how oft has it happened when people, in private settings – knowing what I do (or thinking they know, thus, I am a screen for the projections of their expectations), but not always knowing who I am as a person (thus, believing, hoping that I, as a parson, would be trustworthy), with little to no prompting from me – become embodied epiphanies, opening their hearts (not asking me for any wisdom, any answers, but only that I listen), revealing their deepest concerns about life and meaning, their darkest memories of choice and failure, of guilt and shame?

Countless times.

Long ago, I learned to love, to long for these moments of intensely intimate encounter. For, no matter what people say, even when speaking from the shadows of their most rueful experiences, there is the unmistakable lightness of their being in their quest for wholeness.

For they, to a person, even with trembling fear and dread, dare speak that one ringing, telling word of self in its manifold forms: self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-actualization, self-definition, self-differentiation, self-discovery, self-revelation.

That precious word? I

I think…

I feel…

I need…

I want…

I remember…

I rejoice…

I regret…

I love…

I like…

I hate…

I hope…

I pray…

I fear…

Whenever I hear “I”, this parson knows that he is listening and is bidden by God to pay heed to a person.

© 2021 PRA

Photograph: I kneel during my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Missouri, Saturday, July 30, 1977. Pictured (L-R): The Reverend William James Walker, sometime rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, St. Louis, the Reverend Canon Richard Kirk, the Right Reverend William Augustus Jones, Jr., sometime bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, my mother, Clara Lolita Roberts Abernathy.

#theministryofloveandcaring #theministryofpresence #theministryoflistening #compassion #nonjudgment

2 thoughts on “Ministry Matters

  1. Paul,

    “I”….I remember the first time I met with you when I thought I had MS. I think you only said 3 words and I said around 3,000 but those few words you said were an epiphany for me and I’m grateful! Ministry definitely Matters.



  2. I recall that conversation.

    Long ago, I learned – and strive to remember daily, moment by moment – the necessity of presence with others, which often enough demands my silence as I listen.



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