Deacon Reflection: "Do" vs. "Be"
By The Rev. Eugene Humphreys
It’s always about Martha and Mary! In all of our ministries and all of our works, it’s amazing how a reflection can drift back to the Gospel story of Martha and Mary. It is the constant battle between the need to “do” and the need to “be.” In 18 years of mentoring Education for Ministry (EfM) groups, the scripture lesson for the theological reflection so often turned to Martha and Mary that we banned it!
And so it began with my work with the Outreach Support Team when I arrived at Holy Comforter, Charlotte three years ago. There was a very tidy model for outreach; fall was for teaching ministries, winter was for our homeless ministry where we fed with food and spirit, giving 12 homeless men, women and children a place to sleep one night a week from December 1st through March 31. Spring was for feeding ministries, usually a packing event for Rise Against Hunger and bolstering supplies for our food pantry. Summer was for growing, trying to keep the garden used by our L’Escuelita preschool growing and providing food for our pantry.
It all seemed so neat and tidy, yet it was beginning to unravel underneath our feet. We were so focused on the task. Our homeless ministry actually took about six months with early preparation in November and cleanup in April.
Everyone was exhausted, so we split this Room In The Inn ministry into a separate group with its own chair and co-chair. Our leader of three years was exhausted and had served her term well, and took leave. A new strong leader came on, and we renamed ourselves, Beyond Our Walls, looking for established ministries and social services in the community we could partner with, adding our energies to their experience and expertise.
And yet, the more we focused on the task and growing, it seemed that separate agendas were being formed and there was tension within the group. We had gone 100% Martha!
Our almost new, yet still fresh rector, the Rev. Greg Brown, began to work with our group and one other in the church to introduce his Circle Model for parish ministries. The model changes the reasons for coming together; we come together eager to identify and celebrate the talents and gifts of others. It is a model of five steps:
- Each meeting begins with the Gospel reading. In this, we center ourselves in the one who is our teacher and Lord.
- Then there is time for prayer, for each other, those we love and for the world.
- Pastoral care. We learn to walk with one another and to become vulnerable to each other. We do not come to know those around us comparing strength to strength, but in showing our vulnerability and need to grow together.
- Fellowship. It is a chance to give the Holy Spirit a chance to move among us and to bind us together as children of God. And at last….
It was not an overnight sensation; some thought the process was a waste of time. We are task people, and this took away from our productive meetings. Oh, so wrong my children! The circle is about growing leaders. There is no “top” to a circle, as with a pyramid. As we continued, the group began to shift.
We all came together in our circle as servants, servants of One Lord. As we worked a little longer, we grew more from servants to disciples. And as we continue to work together, we grow from disciples into shepherds, leaders of a flock. The purpose is neither about task nor power, it is about service.
As the practice became the norm, I could see people arriving from a busy day, frantic from traffic, begin to breathe and relax. They were here for fellowship and to feel the Spirit breathing through them. We were about to center ourselves in the One who calls us by name and to learn and to listen to each other. Self-agendas dropped away. As we began to grow as shepherds, the boundaries of our own circle began to fade. We began to grow and to blend with other circles, combining our faith and service with a greater power to go forth and make a difference in the world.
Our new statement in the Outreach section of the Holy Comforter webpage now states: "We are a collection of individuals who live the calling of our baptismal covenant in Christ; to respect the dignity of all persons and to seek the living body of Christ in all those around us. As we all are ministers in the body of the church, we call out in each other the ministries that lie within each of us. We follow the circle model which is becoming a foundation of our growing together. Each meeting begins with the Gospel, prayer, reflection, intercession and finally, task. As we grow as servants we begin to grow as disciples. As we grow as disciples we realize that we become part of the living vine of Christ’s presence in the world."
The Rev. Gene Humphreys is a deacon at Holy Comforter, Charlotte.