“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 25 November 2011

57 Varieties of Ministry

A certain famous manufacturer of baked beans, soups and tomato ketchup has the slogan "57 Varieties". According to the Heinz website, "While riding a train in New York City in 1896, Henry Heinz saw a sign advertising 21 styles of shoes, which he thought was clever. Although Heinz was manufacturing more than 60 products at the time, Henry thought 57 was a lucky number. So, he began using the slogan '57 Varieties' in all his advertising."

In some faith traditions, the only people allowed to lead worship have to be qualified, whether they are called 'priest' or 'minister' or 'vicar' or 'rabbi'. In the Unitarian movement, the person leading worship in your church or chapel next Sunday might be any of the following: a worship leader, a Lay Preacher, a Lay Person In Charge, a Lay Leader, a Lay Pastor, or a Minister. All are ministering to the congregation in the broadest sense - serving others by ministering to their needs.

I believe that there are many kinds of ministry, and many kinds of minister - maybe even 57! If you look up the verb "to minister" in the dictionary, it says "render aid or service (to person, cause etc)" That makes us all ministers - we are all rendering aid or service to each other, and towards building our beloved Unitarian community, and a better world.

So what is ministry all about? In the traditional sense of the word, it is about having pastoral oversight of a congregation, and regularly leading worship. But I think that in a Unitarian context, it could be interpreted much more widely. I think that there are three main types of ministry going on in our churches and chapels: spiritual, pastoral and practical, because the needs of congregations are also spiritual, pastoral and practical. An invocation by the American UU minister Jack Mendelsohn sums up these three aspects of ministry:

"Here, in this sanctuary of ancient dreams and wisdom and beauty, we come to grow, to be healed, to stretch mind and heart, to be challenged, renewed; to be helped in our own continuing struggles for meaning and for love; to help build a world with more justic and mercy in it; to be counted among the hopers and doers."

Ministry in a Unitarian context is not just something that the congregation passively receives; it is something we all do together, helping each other along the way.

Spiritual ministry is about feeding the spiritual selves of the congregation. It is about delivering worship that will inspire them and help them to grow, that will stretch their minds and hearts, that will challenge and renew their spiritual selves. It is about deep listening and sharing.

Pastoral ministry is about being there for each other in times of need, whether it is listening to someone's problems, or sharing their joys, or visiting them in their homes or in hospital, or conducting rites of passage -namings, weddings and funerals.

Practical ministry is about serving refreshments after the service, or sitting on a church committee, or keeping the chapel clean and tidy, or providing flowers for Sunday worship, or playing the organ, or giving someone a lift to chapel on Sunday morning, or any number of other practical things that turn your church or chapel from a social club into a beloved community. As Lionel Blue writes, "it is not preaching about kindness, it is about doing a kindness."

For me, the thing to remember, to bear in mind all the time, is that we are all human beings, all fellow pilgrims on the same spiritual path. As Cliff Reed explains in Unitarian? What's That? "Unitarians affirm that all human beings originate in the Divine Unity, all have something of God in them, all are alive with the same divine breath."

As I see it, our job as Unitarians, as human beings, is to be constantly aware of the "divine influences" around us, in the world, in our fellow human beings, and to recognise that there is "that of God in everyone", and that we are all connected to each other, on a very fundamental level. It is when we make these fundamental connections that ministry takes place, whether it is in a Unitarian context or in our everyday lives.

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