"The church - It's no' for the likes o' me" was the claim made to a colleague involved in caring for an itinerant parishioner over a number of years. Yet this man had no fewer than four members of the clergy whom he had touched in his own,unique way, present at his funeral service. While he saw the church as too ordered and respectable, he nonetheless knew where he would receive help. And, as my colleague pointed out so eloquently at the service, the giving was by no means one sided.This man, whose social skills were very different from those usually encountered in our pews, taught us about hopes and dreams of "being normal", about life lived on the edge, about building a different kind of community and about traits deemed necessary for survival.
Today, I'm left pondering: Is there a way to lessen the gap between the respectable church and the serving church? Is there a way to become less of a do-gooder and more of a servant? Will it always be necessary to separate the very different demands and calls that we encounter, being one thing and then another? Can ministry feel more integrated and less fragmented? Or is the compartmentalisation just something we have to live with in an imperfect church and world?
I've never believed that to be truly helpful to someone in crisis, we must also have experienced something akin to their experience. However, as I become more involved with those whose lifestyle is so very different to mine, I question my usefulness. And perhaps therein lies the difficulty. Do I need to be useful? Is it enough simply to be? Is the vulnerability I feel in such situations a tool for learning and growing, creating, as it does, a space for God? I fear that having a servant heart is not enough but am at a loss as to how to encourage those who can teach us most to share their journey with us.
I want to serve a church that is not respectable but is nonetheless respected as a companion along the way.