Today, the New York Times reported that fewer and fewer seminarians are going into traditional ministry. First, I want to comment on traditional ministry. For most people this is really narrow. For most denominations, it's still a plight for a student to advocate for a call into "alternative" ministry. Ministry happens in all places. There is not one of my peers in seminary that is not in ministry. Indeed, not all of them are currently in a church or have any interest in being in the church. But, this begs us to look at what we mean by traditional ministry.
Tonight, I met a young man in a bar. A young Irish Catholic man. He is not alone on his assumptions about seminarians (though this word was new to him which is a deeper problem that I'm not going to touch). But, to him, ministry is reserved for priests. Even though America was founded by Protestants seeking religious freedom, we are a nation that believes that every religious leader abides by the laws of chastity and poverty. That's just not the case. Joel Osteen and Jim Forbes are only two examples of wealth. And let's not even get started on chastity. But, we think priests. Why? I have no idea. It makes little sense to me. But, I'm a young woman and I'm going into ministry. As it turns out, I'm seeking a call into traditional ministry. I want to be in the church. I believe in the power of the church.
Think back to Katrina. Think of the number of people that responded to this tragedy. Or think further back. Think about the tsunami. There were countless checks that were written. Thousands of hundreds of millions of dollars, which is nice. But, who was on the ground? Who were the people that actually went when they first learned about the disaster? People of faith. Not always people that wear a collar (and again, that's not limited to the Catholics). There are so many lay people that believe it is their call answer the cries of crisis. This, dear friends of the New York Times, is ministry. Ministry is not one thing. Ministry is not preaching or teaching. It can include these things. But, it is not limited to these things. If ministry was to be defined as any one thing, ministry should be understood as being with the other. When you sit down and share with someone's hardship -- a breakup, a death, a tragedy -- then you are in ministry. Motivation doesn't matter, though I beg for an open heart. It's the desire to sit there and listen. It's the love within. This is ministry. Perhaps it's not traditional, but this is what ministry always is.
Now, the New York Times seems to express some shock and dismay that seminarians could do other things besides work in the church. It's as if our fear of religion (Islam, Christianity, you name it) has eroded our intelligence. People of faith can actually be useful? They can be productive citizens? I regret that this is a little insulting. And yet, I wonder if the question shouldn't be turned toward our fear of religious fanatics but to the Church itself. If the Church cannot learn to really and truly love, then why would seminarians accept a call to "traditional" ministry?
You don't believe me? Think of the number of times that we use the name of God to condemn others. My Christian sisters and brothers, I don't care if you are conservative or liberal. You use God in this way. And if the Church can't stop condemning, then what seminarian is going to spend three years learning about the love of God only to preach the opposite? Oh, hell no.