Today was our last day volunteering at the Jeanne Jugan Residence. After more than seven months of Bingo, room visits, word games, Bible study, and the like, our time came to a close with a farewell “Berry Special Sendoff” (named for the strawberry pound cake that was served). A number of sisters, staff members, and residents came to the microphone to say some kind words, and we had the chance to walk around to all of the tables to say goodbye to the men and women that we had gotten to know so well. The whole day was quite touching, and great way to end.
As I look back on the year and wonder what effect Dennis and I may have had on the residents, I come to realize that this has been just as fulfilling and revelatory for me as it has been for them. Here are two of the things that I found helpful for my future in ministry.
I will grow to love ANY ministry
Back in September when we were assigned ministry locations, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the prospect of working at a nursing home. Though I was open to the idea, and by no means fought it or showed any disappointment, there was certainly a part of me that wished for something else. Ugh… a nursing home?
What I came to realize was that, even though I wasn’t a part of some newsworthy effort to radically “save the world,” this ministry effected the lives of a number of individuals in a profound way, making it just as worthwhile as anything I could have done. Like the story of the person throwing back starfish into the water despite the impossibility of saving all of them, I realized that “I made a difference to that one!” and that is all that matters!
There’s no doubt that I’ll be placed in ministries throughout my life that are not my “ideal” choices. After having this experience I now know that it doesn’t matter. Every place I go there are going to extraordinary things to be done, incredible people to meet, and discoveries to be made about myself. In the end, if it’s God working through me, who am I to decide where that should and shouldn’t go? Because of this, I think it will be very difficult not to love every ministry as my own after only a short time.
No ministry is mine
This gradual love for each ministry can, however, lead to a different problem: the inability to give it up later. Transitions like the one we made today will more or less dominate the rest of our lives. As transient preachers, Franciscan friars rarely stay in one place forever. Whether it’s three, six, nine, or even twelve years, we all know that our ministry assignments will probably never be permanent, and that at some point we’ll be asked to pack up and move on.
In this way, it can be difficult to realize that no ministry is mine. More than likely a ministry existed before I got there, and most definitely will there be people left behind doing work after I leave. As attached as we may get to a particular place, ministry, or group of people, we must remember that our vocation was not to work in that specific circumstance alone; we were called to spread the Gospel wherever it needs spreading.
As I found out today, this second point is much harder than the first. Just because we live a transient lifestyle does not mean that we do not engage in deeply connected relationships; all it means is that we must cope with letting these connections go shortly after they’re developed. The important thing to remember in all this is that, no matter how difficult it may be to leave a beloved ministry now, there will always be another one prepared for us by God just up ahead. Today, I may have learned how to say goodbye to people I have come to care for greatly, but tomorrow I will begin to say hello once more to the new possibilities that this life has to offer. What a beautiful thing this is, the life of a friar.