I understand and experience ministry as the purposeful accompaniment of specific persons and communities as they experience the transforming presence and action of God in their lives. This praxis of ministry flows from an ecclesiology of the Church as communio. Ministry is a means of accomplishing the mission of the Church — to be a sign and an instrument of the communion of God with humanity and the unity among human beings. I believe that ministers in the Church must devote much of their energy to fostering the inner life of faith, hope and charity. It is this mystery dimension of the Church that gives flavor and texture and purpose to the external and visible aspects of being Church.
A contemplative attitude is needed to notice the growth of the Kingdom of God within a community, a relationship, and an individual person. Careful discernment is needed to craft helpful policies, procedures, projects, and buildings that serve the building up the Kingdom of God and the inner life of grace. I contend that a minister must be a contemplative-in-action. A life of regular contemplative prayer with a posture of attentiveness to the traces of God’s presence and action must be the wellspring of one’s service in the Church. This demands that I regularly enter the Trinitarian space of hospitality in the Liturgy of the Church and in personal prayer. A minister must embody the contemplative stance, the discerning sense of God that is rooted in prayer precisely within the course of action, of commitment, of service to the Church and the world.
Ten years of my ministry in recent years has included the spiritual direction of seminarians. I see “spiritual director” or “spiritual guide” as one way to describe the nature of being a minister. It is a matter of careful listening for signs of the guidance and direction of the Spirit and encouraging a person or a community to follow that lead. For the ministry of a pastor in a parish to be congruent with the mission of the Church, the Spirit must be the director and guide. A minister must be a bridge for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ and not call too much attention to oneself. Ministry is accompaniment for the journeyer.
I believe that ministry is formative. My experience of ministry has provided me with many gateways for ongoing growth. After leaving each of the four parishes where I served as associate pastor, I summarized for the parish what they did for me this way: “You helped me to grow.” Ministering to people in all kinds of circumstances from the womb to the tomb has helped me to see areas in my own person that need healing or integration. My journey of faith has deepened as I learn to welcome the transforming presence and action of Christ in my life. My pastoral skills have been sharpened in the practice of ministry. And I have more fully appropriated the teaching and wisdom of the Church as my own.