Rev. Catharine Is Currently On Medical Leave

Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

The Joy of Inefficient Ministry

prayer beads Dagda

The Joy of Inefficient Ministry

Small groups still have just a couple of slots. Reply to this email if your interest is piqued by the idea of a circle of care, tenderness, seeking, and witnessing.

Oh, my friends, you are so wise!

First, for those of you who celebrate the day, blessing of Easter to you. Pesach and Ramadan are both upon us or nearly so. Ostara is past. Spring is here, and the spring holidays of remembrance bring us closer, one hopes, to what we most value, what is our sense of deepest good, however we conceive of the Holy.

In Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones’s great work on what the hell white supremacy culture values are (and much of late-stage capitalism’s, as well, by the way), they identify several values. The values are perfectionism, false sense of urgency, defensiveness, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, only one right way, paternalism, individualism and the belief that “I need to go it alone, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, progress meaning bigger/more, objectivity, and right to comfort.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not sure what I think about all these. I’m not sure what “white supremacy culture” means in terms of other cultural ways of moving and thinking. I’m not sure what is my own defensiveness, and what is critical thinking and experience-checking. I’m just not sure. I put the list above as the work of one pair of scholars as a list of things to explore, not as gospel or as something to rest unquestioned.

I do have the sense that one of the pieces that goes along with a sense of urgency and possibly individualism (not individuality, mind you, but individualism) is efficiency.

I wrote last week about saying no, both for oneself, and also for the benefit of others. About how giving a no and receiving a no can both be blessings. Both ends of “no” can identify divine timing, energy, inclination, joy, guidance, and love. No is GREAT! (Someone please teach me this, would you? Ahem. Nothing to see here, nothing to see. Moving on.)

I began this missive with an exclamation about your wisdom. And wow, have I seen it over the past week! Just wow.

Let me say before I go on, that when I say the word “ministry,” yes, I mean the actions of religious professionals and people who are involved in congregational life in whatever denomination or religion. But that’s not all. I also mean the gifts all of us bring to others in kindness, care, gentleness, and most of all, generosity.

Last week, one of you identified a kind of ministry that is radical, rascally, and roguish. Radical – changed at the root. Rascally – wily and creative as that trickster icon, Bugs Bunny. Roguish – something wrapped in allure, seduction, even. You spoke about your ministry, what your hopes are, what you believe you bring, and what you hope to bring.

After listening to you for a bit, the phrase, “inefficient ministry” surfaced between us.

Nap ministry, slow ministry, inefficient ministry. What does it mean when we allow ourselves these things? What might it mean for us to abandon perfectionism, individualism, a constant sense of urgency? For most of us, there is no blood on the floor. The color of the carpet in the Sanctuary is not a decision that needs to be made quickly, though it may be a decision that requires conflict, given people’s strong feelings about what a sanctuary should evoke.

When I say, “no blood on the floor,” I mean that those of us who spend our days, as I do, thinking and writing and reading and responding and listening and trying to bring beauty into the world, are not dealing with life-and-death situations. Some of us are. Some of us, as I mentioned in my last love letter, ARE dealing with clear life-and-death circumstances. Blessed chaplains, especially hospice chaplains and musical therapy chaplains, I am looking at you. You may have a sense of urgency, or at least a sense of the shortness of time we have on Earth, and the importance of relationship in our last moments; you may have a kind of urgency sometimes that others of us don’t. Still, Mark Silver reminds me of an EMT maxim: There’s always time to take your own pulse.

There’s always time to take your own pulse. What pulse do you need to take?

What if we prayed each day to be faithful, not rushed? What if we prayed each day to do our best, and not put ourselves “on the hook” for everything? What if there were no hooks? I mean, what would we do without hooks?! What if we insisted, from the very beginning, those of us who are in congregational ministry, that this is how we intend to work, to model, to be an example? What might happen, both frustrating and beautiful?

Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Wait, what? He had so much to do that he knew he had to add to his spiritual practice, not take away from it. It is our practice that makes our ministry deep and rich and responsive. But be persistently gentle, eh? If your practice is not speedy or consistent or persevering, remember Belleruth Naperstek’s admonition that each breath is a new beginning, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reminder that into each day a little absurdity creeps.

Let yesterday go. Let today be the day in which you live. Be here now. Be here now. Be here now. I cannot say it enough times. Be here now. There is no other time. There is no other place. There is no “there” that is not “here.” The desire for “there,” in any condition, is a recipe for grasping, wishing, demanding, and ultimately, suffering. I am sitting in my chair with my feet on the floor thinking of you. I am here, now, with you.

I have many things to do, it’s true. But what would happen if I practiced them inefficiently, without rush, without perfectionism, and maybe without worry? What might happen? Might I disappoint people? Almost certainly, and then I have the opportunity to turn to the Nap Ministry quotation I wrote to you last week. Might I feel strange in my own skin? Almost certainly, and then I have the chance to integrate new ways of being.

But might I also be more authentic? Might I also be honest with my people, and say what I am and am not willing, not only not able, to do? Often, and I bow to my congregational minister friends, we push and push because we are pushed, both by our own patterns and by other people.

Then, feeling pushed, we do everything we can to avoid failure in front of other people, disappointing those people, and ultimately, shame because we have not lived up to their or our expectations. But what if we risked those things, sure, but also knew that we were watering our own garden so that we could bring new flowers to our people? Flowers they’d never seen before.

I’m just wondering, what does “inefficient ministry” bring up for you? Inefficient ministry that cares more for people than for clocks. Inefficient ministry that spends time staring out the window and knowing that window time is essential to writing, thinking, bringing what people need. Bring us a Word, pastor, people say sometimes in the Black church. Bring us a Word.

Let us spend time being still, no matter what our responsibilities may be, attending, resting in order to find the Word to bring, the responsiveness to share.

Can you help me? Can I help you be more inefficient?

Many thanks to the client who brought this together today. You are a wise, wise one, as are each of you who are reading this correspondence. Let us seek our wisdom, compassion, integrity, and authenticity in stillness and silence and time. And then, only then, bring ourselves to the work.

With love always,


PS – One way to slow down is to bring yourself into communion with others who are also on the spiritual journey. One way to embed practice into your day is to schedule it, to make time in your schedule that says, “practice,” and ideally to do that practice with another or others. I still have a couple of spots available in my morning/lunchtime (depending what time zone you’re in), and I’d love to talk to you about them. Just reply to this email, and let’s see whether there is a way we might help one another breathe, one another slow down, one another be inefficient.

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