1) How has the practice of ministry affected your experience and understanding of God?
Augustine once wrote, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.” I’ve always been a questioner, an examiner of the world, myself, and my faith, since I was very young. I’ve wanted to know the answers, and to know God, inside and out. During seminary, though, just when I though I had things all worked out, I went through a time of understanding in a different, more authentic – if scarier – way: I didn’t know God; God was beyond my comprehension and labels. This time of growth shook me up, but ultimately prepared me for an openness to God, to experiencing and learning to know God in ways that are shaping and shaped by the practice of ministry.
As I am writing this, we’ve just passed the text in the lectionary cycle from Exodus 3, where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. The passage has really resonated with me – God’s desire to get our attention results in God bursting into our lives, breaking into the scene in amazing ways. In the life of my congregation and community, I’ve experienced God in such ‘burning bush’ ways: God speaking through my clergy colleague, as she preached in soul-touching ways at our ecumenical Good Friday service, or at CCYM events where youth you would swear weren’t listening stood up and shared how something an adult said helped them see God, or at church meetings where finally people seem to have caught hold of something like a vision. And in practicing ministry, I have experienced God in the breaking of communion bread at our small Lenten soup supper services, in witnessing the outpouring of love that happens when a member of the church family dies, or in baptizing a child with such hope and promise in her eyes.
I love theology – I love thinking about God and asking those questions still, even if I expect less answers today! Is God omnipotent? Does God have foreknowledge? Does God change? Does God feel? I’ll never grow tired of seeking to better understand God. But the practice of ministry has also taught me how much people (me too!) need to hear the same things about God over and over again. God created us. God loves us, loves us, loves us, unconditionally. God has a gift for us – grace. Grace for you. Grace for your neighbors. Grace for those you’d like to pretend don’t count as your neighbors. And God wants you to help share this love and grace. That’s the simplest stuff we can know about God, and it is also the most challenging to instill in our hearts and practice in our world. The journey of trying is the practice of ministry.