When I was about ten, I created an elaborate design for a fully renewable, self-built
bedroom. I set to work weaving cedar strips to hold the straw mattress for my bed, making sure they were strong enough that hundreds woven together would be able to support the mattress and my own weight. But I soon found there were other things to do with my summer. Given that I already had a fully-functioning bed and didn’t really know how to use a saw and hammer, the renewable bedroom project was set aside for another time. It required more time and patience than I was able to muster at ten years old.
18 years later, during a different kind of summer, my bedroom project has become my ministry metaphor. Summer in chaplaincy is slow, like many things in churchland this time of year. If it’s difficult to produce an exciting program during the year, it’s virtually impossible during the summer months. The daily tasks are notably lacking in excitement as I plan for the year ahead, write reports, and welcome a new group of English students every month.
Summer in chaplaincy has taught me that when God calls us to ministry- whatever form that takes- God is not first calling us to be flashy, funny, or fantastic.
When God calls us to ministry, we are first called to perseverance and presence.
I had a conversation with my friend Andrew Stephens-Rennie, a member of the national youth initiatives team, about this recently. The best youth pastors and youth workers, he agreed, are the ones who continue to be present for youth, time after time and year after year. They are willing to try new things and to fail. They are able to willing to wait and they are able to admit when they were wrong.
Anglicans aren’t usually big on church growth models, but sometimes it is tempting to believe that ministry is like a quick-fix business plan or a low-risk investment. All we need to do is deposit a certain amount of effort, check back occasionally, and voila! Youth dividends. Changed lives. Success. But what makes ministry essentially different from working with money or sustainable bedrooms is people. People are less predictable that money. They change, get hurt, move on. They have their own plans, ideas, and dreams. People, unlike money or my sustainable bedroom, cannot be grown through sheer determination.
People require patience, flexibility, and above all, love. Young people today are given solutions of many kinds. On campus, you can find the solution for your finances, your relationships, your poor grades and your unemployment. Whatever it is, there’s an office for that on your trusty campus map. But there is no office provided at the university for patience and presence. Who will walk alongside our young people as they ask life’s most difficult questions, as they wrestle with faith and meaning? Who will wait all summer long for them to return with new hopes and fears and dreams?
Perhaps our Church is called today to this particular ministry, the ministry of perseverance and presence. Perhaps, in a time of quick solutions, two-day classes, and instant gratification, we are being called to sit quietly with people in those parts of their lives that simply refuse easy answers. The good news is that this isn’t difficult. We’ve been doing it for many centuries. It was undoubtedly Jesus’ favourite thing to do!
But the hard part is that we too have become accustomed to quick fixes and easy answers. We too have begun to ask what program we need to attract instant youth rather than asking how we can go out and be a life-giving presence to youth where they are. Sometimes, which once came easily to us is very hard.
When I think of presence and perseverance, I think of Julian of Norwich. The medieval hermit sealed herself inside a small room in order to spend her life waiting patiently upon God. Nothing about the ministry she was called to was quick or instant or even easy- but it was quite simple. She was not brilliant or interested in church growth. But today we call her “saint” because day after day, year after year, she made herself available to the slow, gentle work of God.
Whatever kind of ministry God has been preparing you for this summer, may you be blessed with the presence and perseverance to be a blessing to God’s little ones.