DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Now what do I do?

Written by: on May 31, 2019

Having just emerged from the aftermath of the suicide of an 18 year old girl from our church, it was a little odd reading a book titled, What Clergy Do. Especially when it looks like nothing.[1] In truth, I almost couldn’t be bothered reading it. My daughter is 18 too, so it was too close to home. However, I did, and was pleasantly surprised. Emma Percy, like her husband Martyn, is sharp. However, unlike her husband she is people smart and pastoral towards clergy.

Apart from the opening chapter of the book where Emma Percy unpacks her method around the mothering as a metaphor for clerical ministry, it is all too apparent in the layout of the book. Percy’s gurus are clear from the text too, Naomi Stadlen’s, What mothers do: especially when it looks like nothing is the framework for the title and the background purpose of her work. Sara Ruddick’s, Maternal Thinking reframes the way ministry ought to be viewed in a more holistic way, and Hannah Arendt’s, The Human Condition, which introduces  the idea of vita active, a clarified division and renewed understanding of the concepts of labour, work and action, along with her belief in the artificial, yet still present, division between public and private life along masculine and feminine lines (Hence Emma Percy is sharp).

Percy covers a lot of material in a short book: the balance between serving and leading; welcoming the stranger; taking care of pastoral tradition: baptism, marriage and funerals (hatch, match, dispatch); engaging congregational ministry and shared leadership. Likewise, she attends to the need for clear leadership and management within the context of constant interruptions. This last one is the story of my life. In one of my favourite books on community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote,

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans … sending us people with claims and petitions…. It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s ‘crooked yet straight path.’”[2]

I guess I quite liked her description of being a “good enough Vicar” in the same way as it’s ok to be a “Good enough mother”.[3] Good enough means doing well in everything that is essential. It also means clergy know why they are doing what they are doing. Too often it’s to become a famous Vicar, not a good pastor – it’s about rising through the profession and not forming the people. I learned that lesson in the most unlikely of settings. Our eldest son was diagnosed with ADHD in an era when such categorisations were unpopular. While we were attempting to understand what that meant for our parenting, the Paediatrician told us to calm down and get a grip. He said, “your roll as parents is to get your kid though childhood alive; help them develop a few good friendships; provide an adequate education, and show them what it means to be functioning citizens – as best you can”. That suited me.

Simplified, Eugene Petersen wrote, the triangle of ministry is not complicated. A pastor opens the scriptures and tells the stories of our faith. A pastor prays for the people God has given her. A pastor helps the spiritually formation of those people in all the experiences of life.[4]

This is a good book; one that I will recommend to others at the beginning, middle and end of their ministry journeys. I will also gift it to the empire building pastors around me – I know a few. The book drew me back to my first weekend in ministry too many years ago. After four years studying dead Germans, Greek and Hebrew, missiology, theology, church history, ethics and Christian Camping (needed that one for some reason), I sat in my study on the Monday morning after a special induction service, and thought to myself, “what do I do now?” I soon learned that it was everything, and most of that everything would be invisible.

 

Bibliography

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. London: HarperOne, 1978.

Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do. Especially When it Looks Like Nothing. Kindle ed. London: SPCK, 2014.

Peterson, Eugene H. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Notes

[1] Emma Percy, What Clergy Do. Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, Kindle ed. (London: SPCK, 2014).

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (London: HarperOne, 19781939). 99

[3] Percy, What Clergy Do. Especially When it Looks Like Nothing. 24; 143ff

[4] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

12 responses to “Now what do I do?”

  1. mm Mary Mims says:

    Digby, so sorry for the suicide in your community. It is at a time like this that we do not reflect on a better sermon, but on the care we actually gave. I pray for the family and I hope the message of care gets communicated to let others know there is hope. Blessings

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Praying for you and your community. This book and your post was a great re-centering for ministry and life. It’s about people, not a profession. We so easily in a professional role, want to make defined categories and put people in them because it allows us to dehumanizes them. As people and as leaders we must always fight against this and remain persons based over and against professional based (meaning seeing poeple as just another commodity).

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Digby, I am sad for your loss. Attending to your own grief and that of the family’s and the community’s is an illustration of some of the “invisible” (yet eternal) things you do as a spiritual leader.

    I have a few thoughts from your writing I want to emphasize for my own learning – I need to review the section on vita active; I love that Bonhoeffer book and that quote is quite convicting; good enough pastor as antidote to celebrity pastoring; and appreciate Peterson’s ministry triangle as I’ve never heard it before and it makes an incredible amount of sense.
    Much love and prayers to you Pastor.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Digby,
    Praying for you as a vicar but most of all as a dad of an 18 year old daughter. May you especially know His peace and presence in this hour. As always you have brought many scholarly and creative insights to our cohort blogging “table.” For me, thanks especially for Dietrich Bonhoeffer”s quote, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” I am so ashamed how often I view people not on my calendar as insulting interruptions to my carefully crafted work week! Your endorsement of Percy’s work helps me immensely. I pray she helps all your peers, especially your empire building colleagues as well. Many blessings and I am so grateful for your leadership and your scholarship, H

  5. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Good post, Digby, and as others have said, so sorry for your loss. I am glad that this book provided solace for you in this season. I think sometimes as parents, we feel that same tension, that what we are doing looks like nothing. I love that you brought in your parenting journey through ADHD. Your pediatrician is right, that sometimes what we’re doing looks like nothing, but as Percy mentioned, it’s putting our families and our parishioners in spaces where they can thrive. Well done!

  6. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Excellent as usual, Digby. I echo the words of others as we pray for you, your family and your community.

    I am especially appreciative of your challenge to focus pastoral effort on the formation of people rather than rising in the profession. This has been heavy on my mind lately, and your reflections are a welcome reminder that it’s our responsibility to hold all of this “nothing” in tension as we seek to create nurturing environments for parishioners.

  7. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Wise, experienced, sagely reflection, Digby.

  8. mm Sean Dean says:

    It’s almost like you’ve been at this for a while. Thanks for the great summary and thoughts.

  9. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    So my friend, how to you counsel a mother to care for herself? What is it that a nurturer needs when life is difficult or even tragic? How is a mother meant to offer healing and hope when she is holding a heartbroken child, when she herself is heartbroken? Perhaps imagining such an answer might be useful as you move forward. And as you find your way, please continue to share your wisdom. We are all learning so much from you.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Jenn, pastoral care is really simple in complex or horrible times. First, I tell the truth. In something like the suicide of a child I don’t shy away from the truth – they won’t ever get over it. Second, I remind them that hope is not some wafty Christian ideal, rather it was was made for times such as this. Hope is not the belief the everything will work out, it won’t. Hope is tougher and stronger than that. Hope is the deep belief that one day soon we can make sense of the nightmare and fold the experience it into our lives as a truly human and divine scar; One that helps us see the world more clearly and fully. So I teach people a prayer/chant that I teach kids who get scared at night. It’s simple, and I use it pretty regularly too. “Lord Jesus be with me now. Let hope be my gift.” Chants’ are repeated over and again until peace comes – and it always does – God is good like that. Facing simple truth with simple belief and simple prayers offers small steps to a new way of being. People can’t have the old life back – they need a resurrection, but to get that theres a bit of suffering, a bit of death and then a new life with redeemed shadows of the old. But theres no doing it alone. New Zealand Maori have a saying: “He Tangata, he tangata, he tangata” “It’s the people, the people, the people”. People helping people to become the people who help people 🙂

  10. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Quoting Percy, Bonhoeffer and Peterson in the same blog post . . . impressive reflections Digby.

  11. Thank you Digby, I must compliment your masterly of the English language and ability to draw from many writers, it’s always a delight to read your blogs but I must also say that I have to arm myself with a dictionary every time I read your post. I feel with you and your community, the loss of a live too young to be snatched from your midst. Emma Percy’s book I must agree is a timely reminder and affirmation for us as clergy of the importance of nurturing the church community and our children to maturity, to fully fulfill Our discipleship mandate. I look forward to seeing you in London.

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