How do you comfort someone who’s grasping onto the hand that she’s held for forty-seven years? How do you form words that ease the pain and bring some sense of peace? How do you fill the deafening silence with hope when one’s last breath makes the world stand still?
The Rev Dr. Emma Percy, Chaplain and Welfare Dean at Trinity College and author of What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, challenges her readers to delve into the shadows of ministry and find one’s purpose in the midst of one’s chaos. According to Percy, “Ministry is a complex collective collaboration in which clergy have limited power properly to assess, to compel or dismiss those who make up the community for which they have charge.” In short, ministry does not provide an excuse for dictatorialism, but an opportunity for collaboration. However, in order to create structures that function on their feet, ministers must allow the winds to bellow and the seas to roar to test their congregation’s footing.
Percy suggests that mothering is intrinsically tied to a clergy’s ability to nurture, protect, and lead. She observes that the church requires a balance of comfort as well as challenge in order to create interdependent congregants who function from a healthy stance. Which is why when men and women within the church are, “…faced with things that are overwhelming in their personal life or in the wider world they want to be metaphysically held: held by the ritual of the church, the reassurances of the clergy, the underpinning of who they are, by love, care, and prayer.” However, Percy goes onto reveal:
Alongside this sense of being securely held, the church is a place where they should be encouraged to grow up in faith. They need to have a diet that allows for variety within the familiar, that stretches the palate, helping people think deeply about their discipleship. They need to be encouraged for their faith and to play their part in bearing witness to it. Churches should be communities with people coming in and changing things by their presence.
Compassion is not simply creating hubs of sustenance but creating opportunities for substance. Therefore, in order to create change, one must understand the needs and nuances of one’s congregation. Percy reveals, “It takes time and effort to respond to real people in this way, to attend properly to the long-term relationships and the fleeting encounters so that people feel recognized, heard and cherished.” Compassion takes time. It takes moments of silence, moments of waiting, and moments of learning. It takes moments of authentic understanding and conversation. However, these interactions require intentionality. Percy goes on to explain:
These conversations should provide opportunities to talk undefensively about the realities of ministry in ways that can encourage the sharing of good practice, the compassionate critique of mistakes and the wisdom that can come from a different person’s insight into a continuing situation.
One of the greatest contradictions that we have within the Westernized church is the multifaceted viewpoint of Pro-life. Marches are formed, bills are written, and sonograms are plastered in Times Square. However, after labor and delivery, we seem to forget that the person before us has a purpose and an individualized point of view. Pro-life is more than pro-birth. It’s understanding that every tear, laugh, and trial belongs to the messiness that lay hidden within the masses of Sunday morning.
Yesterday, I was face-to-face with a person – a grieving friend who needed a hand to hold and an echoing heartbeat within the room that fell silent. She wasn’t on my list of to-dos or written within the script confines of my leadership description. She was an interruption of opportunity that called me to serve.
The Rev Dr. Emma Percy suggests, “The ministry flows out of the whole community and so much of what is done goes unremarked because it feels normal.” Being a pastor is much more than a profession. It is living within the strata of leaning in, bending down, serving outward and leading onward. It is found in the inconvenience of delving deep into the cracks and crevices of culture and seeing Jesus on the face of strangers. Percy challenges us to understand the dynamics of ministry, but she also challenges us to understand the beauty of lateral leadership.
Leadership is not tied to one’s ability to micromanage their flock or keep their congregants within the same liner direction. It is tied to one’s ability to “manage the resources of the parish in such a way that people can do many things for themselves.” It is the spiritual formation of providing an atmosphere that enables one to seek God and serve others.
“Rev Canon Dr. Emma Percy: Welfare Dean and Chaplain,” www.trinity.ox.ac.uk, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.trinity.ox.ac.uk/people/profiles/emma-percy-2/.
Rev Dr. Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing(London, England: SPCK Publishing, 2017), 20.