The ministry of small talk
For many Wake Divinity students the summer is an ideal time to delve into internships that provide significant and meaningful opportunities for their vocational discernment and formation as future religious leaders. From working in hospice and palliative care, ministries supporting the imprisoned, homeless and burdened, assisting with art and restoration efforts of a living museum, to being immersed into the fullness of congregational life in a diverse array of churches, Wake Divinity students are dispersing across the country. This summer, the Unfolding blog will feature weekly posts from several students who are participating in an internship. Each story will speak to their expectations and experiences.
Simple methods can best deliver complex meaning. A short prayer hits home. Silence guides analysis. Spend more time on how I deliver a sermon than on what I say in it. Leave room for Spirit upfront to prevent manufactured outcomes. Trying to fix something can make it worse.
These are a few maxims that have come true for me during my short time as pastoral ministry intern at Community Church Congregational, UCC in Corona del Mar, CA. However, more important than any maxim I’ll remember has been what Eugene Peterson calls, “The Ministry of Small Talk.” Before I came across his article, I was sitting at my desk doing some research. I was into my second week as a pastoral ministry intern. All of a sudden an idea came to mind that I should invite each member of the congregation to have a conversation over coffee and simply get to know them a little. This went against my preconceived notion that I would develop a standard list of questions, interview certain people at the church, and present my findings to the senior pastor. The Spirit called me to let go of feeling entitled to know a person’s walk with God and their relationship and history with the church simply because I am in the ministry. Developing relationships reveals more gold than digging for it.
Some of the members had a hard time believing that I simply wanted to talk with them and see what came up. They assumed I had an agenda. But as I showed an interest in the “mundane” parts of their lives, the profound began to emerge in ways I never would have discovered with my interviews. They told me where they struggled with their faith. They asked about my call in ways I had not explored before. They invited me to their homes or to dinner. We shared stories. They privileged me with their tears. They invited me to their Disciple Bands. All because I started with, “Where did you grow up?” or “What’s your favorite restaurant in town?” instead of “How is it with your soul today?”
Only when I was faithful with small talk have I been sincerely approached about matters of faith. I could not really learn this in a classroom, but I am grateful to Wake Divinity for giving me the opportunity to discover it here.
Jonathan is a rising second-year student at Wake Divinity. He is living and working as a student minister in Corona del Mar, CA at Community Church Congregational, UCC. He is a Member in Discernment in the Southern Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.