I am deeply grateful to the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Corvallis, Oregon, which was the first congregation I served in any way. I am still humbled by the fact that they took a raw, self-righteous, angry, new minister and with patience, love, and as yet, unearned trust, “grew me up” professionally.
I have never forgotten the words of one of my mentors from seminary who taught me to identify myself as a clergy or a reverend only when I could be of service to another. That gentle advice has served me well. Especially on airplanes.
I have come to believe that ministry is accompaniment. We accompany or companion people wherever they are in their lives and spiritual journeys. At times we hold up a mirror. Or wipe the fog or steam from it. Other times we are a connection to that great Mystery that is larger and more capable of a Love beyond words. Sometimes we hold faith for another when theirs has been lost or until they are ready or able to pick it up again. At times we are the keepers of a container that creates safety and assurance. Sometimes we remind folks of who they truly are when they have forgotten.
No other profession has such intimacy with a person. We are there at births. There at deaths. There at all of the transitions of life. There when worlds collapse. There in the crisis and the time after. There to inspire and challenge. There to witness the tears of joy as well as the tears of despair. We create the space through worship and presence for folk to access their deepest and most authentic selves. We hear the untold stories for the first time. This is a great privilege and responsibility. I do not take it lightly but rather hold it all tenderly within my heart and spirit.
But ultimately, we are given our ministry by those we serve.