Adventures in Ignatian Spirituality: Conversations with the Apostle Paul

Last week as part of a ministry discernment and planning process, the pastor and I went to Ignatius House in Atlanta for a time of retreat, personally and with regard to the ministry of Scott Boulevard as we look toward 2015.

One of the spiritual exercises I was given was reading through Acts 9 (Paul on the road to Damascus) and listening for what Paul might be saying about our church. A prayerful conversation between you and a specified, unseen partner is called a colloquy. Here’s Paul’s and mine:

S: Before we start, I just want you to know that I preached one of your texts when I went to meet the people of Scott Boulevard while they were considering me as a candidate for Associate Pastor. That’s a big deal for me, preaching your texts, as you probably know.

P: I’ve heard.

S: Sorry about that. I took out aggression at hurtful interpretations of your words directly on you and that was wrong.

P: I’m not your enemy, Sara. We’re partners in the work of God in our world. It works so much better when we work together.

S: I know. You know, I also preached the story of your conversion in chapel at my seminary a year ago.

P: I heard it was quite moving.

S: Go on.

P: You do good work. You need to embrace God’s gifting of you and God’s call on you- it’s real. Trust me, I spent years trying to measure up to the call, trying to prove that I was just as much an apostle as the other guys. Years. Trying to measure up and trying to prove yourself to the people who’ve hired you and the God who has called you is exhausting- it will become a thorn in your flesh that will gnaw at you until you can come to a place of accepting God’s gift of grace and calling.

S: Ohhhh, so that’s the elusive thorn in the flesh, eh?

P: Ugh, this again. No, it was just a figure of speech. You’ll have to wait just like everybody else to find out about that.

S: Fine then. Well, I’d love to know your thoughts on the Scott Boulevard missional initiatives and what we’re doing as a congregation.

P: Really? You’d love to hear my thoughts?

S: shut up, I said I was sorry. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven much?

P: Touché. Well, I think y’all are getting it. Becoming the presence of Christ, taking church to those who can’t come- beautiful representation of Christian community.

It reminds me of church back in the day, how we used to take care of the widows, making sure their needs were met. It’s an important ministry to take care of those whom some people tend to forget.

I would offer a word of caution, though. Ministers do and do and then they do some more. When do you ever have time to receive?

S: I receive! I receive plenty. I take my violin to visits, I practice for my visits. Sometimes I just get lost in the music. It’s wonderful. I work out, and I have a pet guinea pig. We have morning cuddles before I go downstairs to make my coffee.

P: That’s weird.

S: I know, ok?

P: my point is, you’re going to have to find a balance between doing your job well – working as if for The Lord and not for people- and finding ways to nurture your soul.

Endless giving will deplete you and then you ‘re no good to anyone. It’s ok to rest, it’s ok to receive. Find a good balance that works for you and live an abundant life in the hope of Christ who called you into wonderful light.

S: what do you think our people need most as we move forward?

P: A clear vision that they can grasp, but into and help along. This unique call they’ve discerned, to take church to those who can’t come, gives them purpose- something everyone needs. I think your job is to help them see and embody that purpose.

Encourage them, help them, validate them. Find ways big and small to give value to the phone calls they make, yet cards they write, the visits, try prayers. You wouldn’t believe the encouraging power of a handwritten letter.

S: Ha, I see what you did there.

P: Mostly, you should be prepared to face and handle roadblocks that come your way, and have an adaptable plan for your vision. Inevitably, there will come a time when you’ll have envisioned something one way and it goes completely another way.

S: You mean like taking communion to someone and forgetting the grape juice and having to use cranberry juice instead? Yeah, way ahead of you, pal.

P: Gasp! Welch’s grape juice or bust! Do you even go to church?

S: Come on

P: I kid, I kid. When those unexpected turns happen, whether it’s cranberry communion or any number of other things that can and will go awry, remember that no one privileged enough to be called a minister even deserves the title anyway. Not me, not you, no one.

It is by God’s grace and Christ’s blood alone that you are blessed to work with these people. So, give them that vision. Help guide them along as they use it; only keep Jesus Christ in the dead – er, resurrected- center of it all, knowing that God who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

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