Practicing a Ministerial State-of-Mind
This week we close our Summer Blog Series, which has provided stories and experiences from students who are participating in summer internships. This week you’ll hear from another student who is interning at Greensboro Urban Ministry. Throughout its forty-five year history, Greensboro Urban Ministry has worked with the community to meet the needs of our most vulnerable and oft-forgotten citizens. Today, Greensboro Urban Ministry continues its mission to express the love of God to people in need through practical action in the Greater Greensboro area by offering emergency financial assistance, food assistance, emergency and transitional shelter, and rapid re-housing.
“Homelessness is a state-of-mind, you see, like apple pie.” With that comment I finally understand the nickname of one of our regulars here at Greensboro Urban Ministry, who goes by Apple Pie. I see him most days at the Potter’s House community lunch and try to make conversation, but in the past he has had an attitude of friendly antagonism. He jokes a little, but says if he has any problem he is going to talk to the pastor, not the intern. I appreciate his honest estimation, often feeling the same way about my own authority. He does, at least, place respect and trust in ministerial presence, as do I. It is that presence—that state-of-mind—that I have been learning to embody this summer through a chaplaincy internship at Greensboro Urban Ministry.
To embody the presence of ministry requires me to follow the advice of Mary Oliver to “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” We are often called to notice the holy in the hidden heart of things. On a very practical level, I simply turn my attention more fully to each person in front of me. Is there something I should be noticing about a staff member or client’s demeanor this morning? Does she need someone to pause from any bureaucratic or logistical maneuverings and listen to how this affects her life and her sense of self? Is there a follow up conversation I should have with someone, offering the blessing of remembrance? I am constantly attuned to rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, whether in the Emergency Assistance lobby, a midday worship service, or a women’s support group. Any point of encounter may be holy…with the right state-of-mind.
The role of “minister” or “chaplain” makes me aware of this orientation towards my surroundings, but I enter that presence most fully when I remove any division of authority or privilege. Immersing myself in the worldview of the most marginalized brings my own vulnerabilities to the surface, and makes me appreciate God’s grace for the whole messy lot of humanity. Everyone here must let go of the baggage of judgment, because our roles are truly easier when we see everyone else as human, and therefore in some way a reflection of the divine. My mentor, Frank Dew, often says that we want to help people see themselves as God sees them. Both as a minister and as a fellow flawed human being, I must trust in this loving vision for all people.
Sometimes it amazes me that so many people seem to find this loving God present even when no one else is. “Lord, thank you for waking me up this morning” is by far the most frequent and heartfelt prayer I hear. The prayer lens of the poor and suffering jostles me from taking things for granted. Faith becomes much more active, social, political, vital. This realization is a gift, and thus I am discovering that the presence of ministry must be communicated not only through private, intimate connection but also through public, communal witness.
Perhaps the most memorable experience from the summer is my participation in the Moral Monday movement, both in Raleigh and Winston-Salem. I quite literally put on the presence of ministry when I donned a stole with other clergy, united in a communal witness of worthwhileness. God seemed to rest in the weight of the stole’s cloth on my shoulders, a necessary pressure to exert the commitment of my faith and at the same time a tender touch to guide me through the endeavor.
As I increasingly see myself as part of the public sphere, I am motivated to study public policy and the inner workings of social systems, while also measuring them against the personal stories that have been shared with me. I am haunted by the temptation of voluntary ignorance, while knowing that it can no longer be an option. I am a better minister and a better human neighbor when I brush paths with the state-of-mind of the homeless, the addict, and the immigrant, and grasp how these states-of-mind intersect with my own. Stepping into public advocacy and ministry also means imagining and articulating Kingdom parables for the here and now. My vision for a ministerial state-of-mind encompasses preacher and policy-analyst; storyteller and social ethicist; prophet and priest. The coming school year no doubt provides an opportunity to further study and practice this vision.
The morning that I find out more about Apple Pie’s nickname I have spontaneously gathered with him and several other passers-by at the edge of the parking lot. For whatever reason, he has decided to trust my presence and we share histories, current community topics, and a little theological reflection. I suppose my ministerial presence has in fact grown this summer. “Where two or more are gathered…” he says with a grin, and thus we start our day with a little church, and a good state-of-mind.
Rachel Revelle is a rising second-year student from Murfreesboro, NC. In the coming year she will be interning at Knollwood Baptist Church as well as working with the Wake Forest University’s Pro Humanitate Institute. She looks forward to these opportunities as ways to cultivate her public theological voice.
 Mary Oliver, “Sometimes,” in Red Bird (Boston: Beacon, 2008), 35.