One Wednesday after celebrating the Eucharist at St. Catherine’s village, I ran into a recently retired Catholic priest after the service. He was a priest at St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s in my hometown of Meridian, but he also served eleven years at St. Francis’ in Madison. While we were having a cup of coffee in the dinning room at St. Catherine’s, we were discussing ministry. It was mainly me asking him questions, almost as if I were interviewing him. It was a retired Catholic priest ordained for fifty years, imparting wisdom and guidance to a young, Episcopal priest who had barely been ordained for two months.
He was figuring out how to settle into retirement which was not easy after fifty years of ordained ministry. What he missed the most were the relationships. “Will, ministry is about relationships,” he said. That was something I was discovering early on in ministry, but to have it affirmed by this Catholic priest of fifty years further solidified that it was true. As we parted ways, he asked that we pray for each other in our daily life because, as he said, “We both need it.” Praying for each other affirmed what he knew and what he affirmed to me to be true, that ministry is about relationships.
This is not only true of ordained ministers, however. It is also true of all who have been baptized. By virtue of our baptism, we all are ministers and are called to be in relationship. The baptismal covenant is the heart of what it means to follow Christ and all the questions the baptismal covenant asks deal with relationships. So to follow Christ means to be in relationship with others and with God. Think of the relationships Christ formed in his ministry. It wasn’t just with the disciples and it wasn’t just with the Jews. It was with people from all walks of life and with people one would least expect: Nicodemus the Pharisee who came to see him at night (John 3), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 1-30), the ten lepers he healed (Luke 17: 11-19), the Syrophoenician Woman (Matthew 15: 21-28), and the criminal who was crucified with him (Luke 23: 39-43) just to name a few.
To follow Christ is to be in relationship with not only those with whom we agree, but with those with whom we disagree. To follow Christ is to be in relationship with not only Christians, but non-Christians. To follow Christ is to be in relationship with those who we think deserve our prayers and those who we think are least deserving of our prayers. To follow Christ is be in relationship with those who are easy to love and with those who reject love.
Ministry is about relationships. All of us are ministers. We will with God’s help.