Ministry: it’s a modest business

As pastor of a city church, there are moments and events—both civic and ecclesial—that stand out. Last week was one of those. I was privileged to attend the inauguration of the new Anglican Primate of Australia. It was an impressive occasion in a majestic space.

Nave_jWith Bishops and Archbishops from around the nation, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the pulpit, the Governor of Victoria and the immediate past Governor-General of Australia, and Heads of churches and traditions from across the ecclesial spectrum, the procession of clerical spendour was long and grand. Feeling awkward in my poor excuse for Baptist robes, I paraded in self-consciously alongside others looking resplendent and assured. Once seated under the great dome that soars above the altar, I looked out on the grandeur of St Paul’s. The organ fanfares were beautiful, the magnificent choral music of the choir rising into the space above. It was a moment, majestic and splendid in every way.

But then, like every moment, it was over. As I made my way home, walking along Flinders Street, robes draped over my arm, I felt like I often do at such times. The contrast is stark. From the heights of liturgical splendour and the trappings of clerical office to standing in the drizzling rain, waiting for a pedestrian light to turn green as impatient drivers sound their horns. The footpaths underfoot were wet as I navigated my way through the crowded overflow at the corner pub. No processions here. No titles. No deference. If the extraordinary has its moment, the ordinary has the day.

Next morning at the office it’s back to the routines of what I do. Phone calls to return, emails to answer, chairs to move, and appointments that don’t show. There are moments in any job, I suppose; moments of reward and recognition, those moments when you get a glimpse of something much bigger than your little patch and contribution. But they are just that: moments.

The truth is, most of what we do as pastors and priests is entirely without fanfare, unseen and mundane. Eugene Peterson calls ours an ‘essentially modest and obscure way of life.’ He’s right. Whatever our tradition, whatever ways we decorate and slice our ecclesial cake, the real work is in the baking, and in sweeping up the crumbs afterwards. Really, it’s a modest business we’re in.

Though I confess to enjoying a moment every now and then, I am kind of glad they are few and far between. In my experience, there is something about the nature of ministry that finds its deepest integrity in the routine fidelities and duties of what we do. Honestly, there is so much we can hide under robes and in pulpits, but so little we can camouflage for any length of time in the daily routines of our work.



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