In my introductory letter to Christ Episcopal Church, I noted that I thought the role of the Rector is to be “an empowerer and encourager of ministry.” This comes from my understanding of ministry as a shared activity. As an ordained minister, I am not paid a salary to do ministry on behalf of a group of people, but rather, I am paid a stipend in order to be free to look around, listen for where God is calling, and to bring people along in support of that calling. This is based in stories like the one that we will hear from John’s Gospel on Sunday.
Despite the context seeming to suggest that Jesus already has fish roasting over the coals, he is not content to just hand his disciples what they have spent all night looking for. No, instead, he serves as an encourager of their own self-worth. “Try the other side of the boat,” he shouts from the shoreline, and then, when the haul is nearly impossible to bring in, he doesn’t jump into the water to save them, but let’s them live into who they are, seasoned fishermen who know their way around boats and the sea.
This model of ministry has been highlighted for me of late. As we’ve struggled to figure out how to respond to those who are experiencing homelessness and find shelter on our porches, we have worked very intentionally not to “minister to them,” but to “walk alongside our neighbors.” We’ve learned names. We listened to and shared stories. We’ve prayed with, for, and asked them to pray with and for us as well. The same has been true of our other members as well. It isn’t just the clergy who are doing this work on behalf of the people who pay our salaries, but the invitation continues to be made for anyone who has a heart for those in need to come alongside us in loving service for all in our community – housed or not, regular attendee or not.
This isn’t a Joel Osteen, boot-strap heresy, your best life now story. There have been fits and starts. There have been moments of joy and moments of true heart ache. We’ve made mistakes, learned, forgotten what we’ve learned, and, I’m sure, on more than one occasion, fallen back into, “let us fix you” types of ministry. But, with God’s help, we are trying to encourage one another toward the common goal of loving our neighbors and seeking justice and peace for all people.