Houston Reminds Us of What Ministry Is About

Watching the images of people helping each other in the flooded streets of Houston inspired me. Knowing that their neighbors were in trouble, everyday heroes used whatever they could find, a row boat, a paddle board, or a kid’s blow up toy, to help someone. I admired their courage, and I hoped I would do that too if I was close by. What was the thought process when they saw the water rising? How did they know they would succeed? Did they think about it or did they just get in and do it? I remembered times when I jumped in. I also recall the times that I have hesitated. The usual barrier for me is doubt: will what I share be enough? Will I just get in the way? Isn’t there someone more qualified to do this?

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I think this was the lesson Jesus taught the disciples in the story of the loaves and the fishes when they told him to dismiss the crowds before they got hungry. The disciples saw strangers for whom they were not responsible, and they saw the scarcity. Jesus saw the hunger of his children and he knew the abundance. He multiplied the loaves and fishes. His message: with me there is always enough.

I wonder what the rescuers in Houston are feeling. I imagine there is a fear and urgency that drives them. After they deliver their neighbors to safety, there is probably a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. But there is also a trace of something much bigger, something that lasts. The power of God’s love worked through them. This power always leaves a longing, a hunger to remain connected. That’s what ministry is all about.

Sometimes ministry is about responding to the moment, paying attention to what is happening and seeing ways to become Jesus’ hands, feet, and voice of comfort. We become part of the good news. These situations happen every day in big and little ways with people we love and with strangers. Some of these situations are dramatic and newsworthy. Most are not.

Sometimes instead of waiting for the moment, we place ourselves in a role. We commit to a consistent way for God to use us. The role is important whether we answer phones in the parish office, or teach children as a catechist, whether we lead a faith sharing group, volunteer in youth ministry or stack the shelves at a soup kitchen. The role is important, but even more important is the availability—we place ourselves where God can use us. We loiter with intent to minister.

I have two ministry roles in my parish. For one, I help prepare breakfast at the hospitality kitchen. This is a real “Saturday morning something special” breakfast with blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, sausage, and fresh fruit. I love it when I get to make the pancakes. I feel God’s abundance when we go from an empty pan to overflowing trays of pancakes. I see a lot of courage on the faces of the men and women who are living with immense challenges, but still return the smile and greeting as they fill their plates. My other ministry is as a lector.  As I prepare, I try to get out of the way of God’s word so it can be heard and so I won’t distract. I find both ministries to be humbling in different ways. I feel God’s power work through me in these ministries.

This fall, as the school year starts, your parish will be sharing with you numerous opportunities to get involved and volunteer in a ministry role. All of us can choose from the usual excuses and assume the invitation is for someone else. We don’t have time. That kind of thing is for those “joiner” types, the ones who are always comfortable in new situations. We don’t have what is needed. Someone else is responsible. Ultimately, we worry that we aren’t enough.

Sometimes we feel that inkling, and we allow ourselves to hear that call. We remember the last time we put our humble gifts at God’s service and we remember the power when he works through us. In courage, we step forward; we let God multiply us. We remember: with Jesus, there is always enough.


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Tom East

Tom is the Director of the Center for Ministry Development and Project Coordinator for the Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies Program. Previously, he was the Director of Youth Ministry and the Associate Director for Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He has provided workshops on volunteer management in dioceses and parishes for over twenty-five years. He holds a master of arts degree in religious studies from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.

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