Thursday, August 16, 2012
I spent the summer working at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. I did all sorts of things (i.e. preach my first public sermons) and ate more TexMex and Vietnamese food than should be legal. One of my ministerial assignments was to work with a community/organization that is forming within the walls of the church reaching out to the youth of the Southwest Houston, particularly youth who have been affected by the gangs of the neighborhood. My job was simply to sit, to hang out with the guys and be a present, encouraging, non-domineering authority figure.
Considering my previous school-work-homework-sleep-repeat pattern of graduate school, being a professional hanger-outer was a bit of challenge, in the best sort of way. I learned how to turn off my achievement detector and tune into prayer and simple joys. There were young men who took very personal steps, taking pride in their appearance in a different way, speaking more clearly, initiating conversation with adults, and setting new goals for themselves. Their transformation challenged me to consider how our friendship was transforming me. I became a person much less likely to dole out judgment on anyone. I became a person insistent on the necessity of the Holy Spirit for personal and community transformation and in prayer for it. I became a sister, never wanting to give up on anyone, overly excited about the smallest thing.
God didn't dramatically change the trajectory of my ministry. I am still called to think through Christian formation and theological education. I am still called to think about the equipping and empowering of the people--paid and volunteer, educated by institutions and educated by experience--particularly with the young people of the church. But this calling has a renewed attention to systematic injustices and the failings of the church to reject these injustices. I see more clearly that the church is called to care for the unheard, the ignored, the silenced, whether they are military service members and veterans, the incarcerated, the severely impoverished, those who do not conform to gender norms, or anyone else rejected by the pristine nuclear family ideals. I see more clearly that my work is to reveal this calling of the church to her leaders. I see more clearly that this work is not a task of the church segmented and separated from her discipleship, worship, and fellowship tasks, but integrated into her fibrous, fleshy being.
When I left middle school ministry in the church to attend school full time, I didn't know what would happen while I studied and died to my perfectionist ideals. Sitting at the threshold of the two-thirds mark, I am overwhelmed by all that has been given to me in knowledge and experience and opportunity. Anticipating this place in ministry and life would have been impossible. Looking back it is all that makes sense, God is at work in me and around me. Looking forward, it dares me to dream for even more. If studying and simply sitting can accomplish so much within my heart, what else could be in store?
Posted by Alaina Kleinbeck at 4:12 PM