Iâ€™ve been thinking a bit about ministry and what it means to be a pastor. I keep asking myself the question: â€œIs it possible for all kinds of different people to dwell together in unity?â€ That is, can a particular local church be made up of a wide variety of people, and yet be united? Can there be true unity in vast diversity? Iâ€™m not just talking about diversity in appearance or superficial issues, but diversity in beliefs, theology, and lifestyles. This is the kind of church I envision and work hard for. Sometimes I lose hope, but sometimes I see glimspes of possibility.
While I was thinking about this, I was reminded of a book I read a few years back by Michael Ford, Wounded Prophet. It is his biographical account of Henri Nouwen, a prominent Roman Catholic priest who taught Spiritual Theology and mysticism at Harvard, then ended up being a worker alongside Jean Vanier at a Lâ€™Arche community in Richmond Hill, ON, Canada. He died a few years ago, leaving behind him several books on spirituality and prayer. He touched many lives around the world, including mine in a significant way. In this book, he tells us about a time when Nouwen went on retreat to some friendsâ€™ in the country, and he began to just meet in the red barn on their property to prayer and celebrate mass. A friend joined him, then another friend, until there was quite a number of people meeting with him. This is his account:At Nouwenâ€™s sabbatical in the Red Barn Community, he comments:
â€œMinistry happens. I have done nothing here while on sabbatical to do ministry. I didnâ€™t come here to get people who mostly donâ€™t go to church to join me in prayer and the Eucharist. I just started to pray, and invited one person to join me, and these othersâ€”neighbors and friendsâ€”simply came. Iâ€™m not concerned with fixing the marriage of the one who is considering divorce or convincing the woman who doesnâ€™t believe in Jesus. Iâ€™m here to say this is who I am, and to be there for othersâ€ (Michael Ford, Wounded Prophet, p. 198).
With his own struggles in mind, Nouwen could only ask himself the obvious question: “Who am I to judge?” When I read this, my heart said, â€œYES!â€ This community is something like what I envision. Is there a way, like this community, that we can all just gather with all our problems and issues and differing theologies and lifestyles without trying to fix each other? Is there a way we can serve each other without the ulterior motive of trying to change the ones we serve? Is there a way we can truly love each other without caution or reserve?
These, I feel, are significant questions that need to be asked if we have any concern at all for the future of the church, spiritual communities, or any community for that matter.