Pastor Hugh

The job of community

March 8, 2024

Over the last few weeks, I moved my home office into a new room. This meant that everything that was in the old office must be touched, sorted, and moved, which is a lovely time to decide if you want to keep it. Things also break when they are moved, or sometimes get lost.

Three moves equal a fire, they say.

But one of the first things to get hung on the wall of the new office, just over the desk where I write my sermons every week, is my Ordination certificate.

I was ordained as a minister in the Mennonite Church USA on a cold March day in North Carolina, surrounded by people who loved me and knew me, and who had recognized my gifts, and wanted to formalize that recognition by a ceremony.

The ceremony wasn’t the important part. Neither was the certificate. It was the recognition that counted.

It still is.

We Mennonites tend to distrust messages from God when the only person hearing them is the person themselves. If God has called you to be a minister, it doesn’t make sense to us that the only person who hears that call is you. God calls us through our community.

I’m not a minister because I decided to be – at the end of the day I’m a minister because people who worshiped with me, who prayed with me, and who had eaten countless potlucks with me told me that I was. The piece of paper was just to make it official.

 

A friend tells the story about a party he was at where the guest list included an elderly man and a 6-year-old girl. The man was sitting on the couch and the little girl was beside him, talking his ear off. Suddenly she stopped mid-sentence and said, innocently, “Oh! You’re blind!”

The man laughed, and said, “I know”.

The girl asked, in that innocent way only children can, if he had been born blind, or if something happened to him. The man replied that he had been born blind.

The child paused, and then said, “That’s so sad. That means you have never seen how beautiful you are.”

I love that story because I think that it’s the job of our community to tell us the things we can’t always see for ourselves. Sometimes it is how beautiful we are when we cannot see it, and sometimes it is how we are making a mess without realizing it, and sometimes it is believing things for us when we just cannot believe it to be true. And sometimes, it is to tell us that we are a minister, whether we knew it or not.

 

Later, I would become the pastor here at Open Door – not because I declared myself to be, but because people here knew me and trusted me and saw things in me that sometimes, I have a hard time seeing in myself.

Whatever authority I have as a pastor comes not from a certificate or a diploma or a title, but from the consent and call of the pastored. This work we do here is collaborative work, and church is a collective noun.

And I’m glad I get to do that work with you.