One of the things I've always known - and that I'm learning even more deeply this summer - is that 'ministry' is not always confined to the ways and times and places we would initially use to define it.
Where does ministry happen?
At church. Well... yes - of course. But not only at church. If we limit ourselves to thinking that our ministry (as priests, seminarians, moms & dads, Sunday school teachers, good parishoners & catechists, etc) if we think of our ministry as only taking place at church, we're leaving a lot on the table... and chances are, our ministry won't be effective. Ministry happens wherever we are - as long as we're going where the people of God are.
When does ministry happen?
At mass. In the confessional. In formal counseling or spiritual direction sessions. Well... yes - of course. But not only in these 'formal ministry settings'. Ministry happens through relationships. We make Christ present in our lives and in the lives of others in day to day happenings. We 'minister' to others around the dinner table, in the car on a trip, on the phone talking with a friend, at the movie theater... Wherever we are.
What is ministry?
Well - sometimes ministry is just relationship. We minister to others by loving them. By having an honest, integral, building-up relationship. We minister to others when we talk about God - and sometimes most effectively when we're not 'formally' talking about God, but just living our God-centered lives in community with others. There's 'formal' ministry - which is ever so important, and often gets a great deal of our attention (in formation as a seminarian, for example). And there's 'informal ministry' - and often I'm afraid we don't pay enough attention to this.
Ask any your minister you know... any youth minister who's young people are experiencing a real relationship with God... and they'll tell you - the 'informal ministry' is as important as the 'formal ministry'. In fact, often the informal ministry is the only key that opens the door to real formal ministry.
And I don't think that's any less true for the rest of the Church - this isn't a principle that's only in play with the yunggins.
Gee - that was way off course from where I thought I was at when I started writing this. What I planned to share - and will now - is one of the interesting ways I've been involved in 'ministry' this summer in Pikeville. Are you ready??? This may surprise you... OK - here goes:
Building a Greenhouse for the Parish School
taaa daaa!!! Ministry.
Yep - there was a great opportunity in building this little greenhouse for me to BOTH participate in ministering to others in the parish AND (... wait for it... here it comes... ) allow myself to be ministered to. SHOCK! I find, if I remain open, and am genuinely trying to make Christ present in the most mundane kinds of ministry (like building a greenhouse), I ALWAYS come away knowing that I, too, have been in the presence of Christ. I ALWAYS come away knowing that God has blessed me as much in the work and effort as He may have blessed others through my effort.
Don't get me wrong - I think its dangerous to do ministry for this kind of 'payback' blessing. That approach could get us so focused on our 'good feeling' and 'the return' that, whever it goes missing so would our ministry. And that's dangerous and one sided. For me, however, (at least so far) I find that if I walk away without having that feeling of 'being ministered to' - there's probably something about my approach I need to check. (And the BEST news of all is this: even if there IS something within that I need to check, if I'm doing my best, it seems I've still been able to 'minsiter to others'.)
Anyway... enough of my rambling... here are pictures of the "Great Greenhouse Build of 2008" - an opportunity of ministry I was blessed to participate in. I got a chance to meet, work with, and get to know some great folks... and create a space for the students at St. Francis School to learn more about caring for our earth.