At the end of May, my assistants and I had the opportunity to meet with a group of pastors, and one deacon, who are called to serve in specialized ministries of spiritual care within the wider community. Some serve in long term care or hospitals. Others serve as chaplains within the Canadian Armed Forces or within the correctional system. Others serve in social service and community counselling ages or hospices. One is called to minister to seafarers on the Great Lakes. Their ministries are unique and represent an amazing breadth of contexts and situations. Regrettably, this work is relatively unheralded within the life of our church and these gifted colleagues engage their ministries in relative anonymity.
The testimonies they shared regarding their particular experiences of ministering within this time of pandemic were poignant and profound. Some spoke of the challenges of ministering to overwhelmed staff colleagues struggling to do their work in times of outbreak. Others referenced their experiences of accompanying the dying in circumstances where family members were not allowed to be present. We heard about escalating mental health challenges and ministering to victims of sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. We heard a lot of pain.
We also, however, consistently heard profound words of grace, hope and love. Our colleagues consistently referenced how blessed they feel to be able to do the work that they do. They spoke of the privilege of accompanying people in circumstances that; while fraught with much pain, distress and anxiety; were also profoundly holy and sacred.
Many have had to change the ways and means by which they serve. One colleague now does shopping runs for seafarers that are locked on board and has been known to carry a balance of up to 20k on his personal credit card in order to do that. “You are a very trusting man,” I said! “It’s all based on trust, bishop!” “It’s all based on trust.”
Each of these colleagues is sharing and living out the Gospel in places and contexts that congregational ministries are unable of unlikely to reach. They extend the breadth and scope of the church’s ministry efforts. They are agents of grace and blessing who are at work at the margins, with people and communities with whom the church would otherwise have no, or very limited, contact.
Their calls to ministry are issued by a synod, or by the ELCIC, on behalf of the whole church. They are our agents of grace and blessing to the world! At the same time, each of them has made a commitment to make themselves available to support congregational ministries as they are able beyond the work they do in their own specialized ministry context. And I can tell you that they honour that commitment by providing supply and interim ministry support to our congregations on top of the significant responsibilities they carry under the terms of their primary calls.
Thank-you, my dear colleagues, for carrying our church’s ministry to places and people to whom we might otherwise not go! You bless us all by your services and we are deeply grateful!