Breathing Out

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An excerpt from “The Mystical Core of Organized Religion” by Bro. David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B.:

“[D]octrine, ethics, and ritual . . . fulfill a most important function: they keep us connected, no matter how imperfectly, with the truth, goodness, and beauty that once overwhelmed us. . . . Unfortunately, however, deterioration begins on the day the system is installed.”

To this, I would add that “mindful” ministry assists in maintaining this connection and acts as a preventative against the tendency toward the “deterioration” to which Bro. David points.

The very same mindfulness that results from our breathing in the spirit of God becomes the essence of our work in the world that is the fruit of the Spirit’s activity and presence in our souls.

What is “mindful” ministry?

Mindful ministry, much like mindful eating, involves taking stock of what will add the most value, produce the greatest energy, and make us healthy and lithe, not sluggish. In a parish the size of Grace, it means regularly assessing our gifts, skills, and the needs of the world around us, as well as those within our own parish family. Well-intentioned is not necessarily well-executed. And, without proper support and encouragement, well-intentioned individuals quickly burn out and walk away from an unmet need owing to their own broken spirits. When a parish is small, ministry can be more manageable. But, many large resource-sized parishes, such as Grace, have managed to do very effective ministry and targeted ministry, despite their size. How do they make it work?

The keys to successful ministry in a large parish are collaboration and coordination. Forming teams to do different ministries that are all coordinated under leadership that is tasked with managing the big picture and finding ways to incorporate new members prevents any one person or team from feeling overwhelmed or isolated. Through regular meeting with the clergy leader, the clergy can learn how best to provide support, advocacy, and training so that individuals feel well able to do the thing that gives them the greatest joy.

There are several models in the Church that can help with this organized approach to mindful ministry. One of my favorites is a Benedictine model called Community of Hope.

What is Community of Hope?

The Community of Hope International is “a school for God’s service” (The Rule of St. Benedict). Its mission is to “create a Christian community of volunteer lay chaplains united in prayer, shaped by Benedictine spirituality, and equipped for pastoral care ministry.” It was started by an Episcopal priest in Houston, Texas, the Rev. Dr. Helen Appelberg. It provides training for pastoral care ministry, and assists lay persons to minister where their spiritual gifts are best suited for giving comfort and care to those in need. And Bishop Rob Wright has endorsed this particular model for effective pastoral care in our diocese.

Within a parish, it operates as a ministry of presence, teaching its members how to listen with the “ear of the heart” and develop spiritually-centered pastoral care teams of two, so that no one ever serves alone in isolation. Perhaps the best brief description of Community of Hope comes from the Rev. Donald D. Binder, PhD, Rector of Pohick Episcopal Church in Lorton, Virginia:

“What distinguishes the Community of Hope from other Pastoral Care groups is its ordering around the Rule of St. Benedict. And so ministry in the Community is not just about doing for God; it is about being with God. That’s essential for this type of ministry, since it entails a lot of emotional involvement that can quickly lead to burn-out. The emphasis of the Community on group and individual prayer—in addition to study and service—helps to sustain the members of the Community, as well as to draw them closer to God and each other.”

I will be offering the concept of such an intentional pastoral care community to our vestry for their discernment. I invite each of you to begin thinking of what gives you joy in your life and how such joy may be the fruit of the Spirit in your life that can become part of a ministry, either in the parish or outside. Through Community of Hope chaplaincies, I have seen ministries around transportation, nursing homes, literacy, prayer, hospitality, and soul friendship.

We humans were made to fit together in complementary relationships, and we are our best when our greatest joy encounters one of the world’s deepest needs. This kind of ministry is stable, without being fossilized.

If you feel nudged to explore what a Rule of Life around pastoral care ministry might look like, please contact me and let’s talk.

Cynthia +

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