The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
In Seeds of Hope, the author writes that Henri Nouwen’s model of approach to teaching, writing and other forms of ministry is this: “First, explore and reflect on (your) own experiences. Secondly, bring others into the discussion: listen to their ideas and experiences; formulate a common understanding. Thirdly, share the combined knowledge or experience with others.” At the first meeting of the Recently Ordained Clergy and their Mentors, and as the new facilitator of the mentors’ group, I was asked to offer some thoughts on “Covenanting to full Participation for the sake of the Group.”
I decided to focus on these three words: covenant, participation, and group. First, covenant is not a contract; it’s a call to relationship. The old and new covenants in the Bible are testaments to these covenants. The Bible reveals covenantal mentoring relationships throughout our Judeo-Christian history: Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, Jesus and his disciples, Paul and Timothy, and of course, God and us. In our one-to-one relationships, we mentor and learn from each other. So too in our groups.
In our ordination vows, we enter a covenant. We promise, among many things, that we are willing and ready to “obey our bishops and other ministers who may have authority over us and our work.” Those who have authority over us may be lay people or clergy. They may not even work in and for the Church. We also say that we are ready and willing to “be faithful pastors to all whom we’re called to serve, laboring together with them and our fellow ministers to build up the family of God.” These fellow ministers take many forms; they’re most often not clergy. We can all be faithful pastors as well. Each of us and all of us is called to build up the family of God.
Our participation, however, is by choice. For me and Henri Nouwen, participation means listening and sharing our ideas, experiences, and knowledge with each other with compassion, courage, and commitment. Compassion means sharing our challenges and mistakes with vulnerability, as well as sharing our successes and best practices with humility. Courage is a matter of our hearts as well as God’s heart. It takes courage to be leaders in the Church and in the world. Full participation means being present to God, to the people, and to the work that is in front of us, that is right now. As John MacDougall once said, “Show up. Pay attention. God is doing something good. Try to be a part of it.”
We incarnate our commitment to God and to one another with ourselves, our souls, and our bodies: our heads when we share our knowledge, with our hearts when we give and receive love, with our hands when we open them to receive the gifts of others and when we close them in prayer, and with our feet when we show up. Commitment also means being sent with others to labor together. Blessed are you for your full participation for the sake of building up God’s family. Blessed are the feet of the messengers who bring good news to the poor. Blessed are you when you show up.
This particular group of recently ordained clergy and their mentors is part of the Body of Christ; and all members are important to it. Regardless of our age, our length of service, our positions of power, the size and location of our parishes, we have made a covenant to be unique individuals, laboring together in a learning community, as a group. Our full participation is important not only to the group but also to the Body of Christ.
Teresa of Avila once said,
“Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours,
yours are the eyes through which he looks
with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which
he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which
he blesses all the world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582)
I hope you’ll covenant with me to be a full participant in whatever community in which you live and move and have your being. I hope you’ll choose to offer your gifts to the people and places in which you labor for love. I hope you’ll hear God’s call to relationship and help build up the family of God.