This week, I am participating in a masterclass in public ministry at Pilgrim Uniting Church in the city, with Rev Dr Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial church in NYC.
Donna has been busy since she's been in Adelaide, but the first of the events I attended was dinner and a lecture on Thursday night.
The main thrust of Donna's talk was to challenge our engagement with / in public ministry from a motivation of obligation. Donna has observed from her vast experience that when we engage in public ministry because we 'should' - it's the 'right' thing to do, etc. - our engagement will be less sustainable and less effective. Because 'should' leads to a sense of shame and blame when we do not do what we assume we must.
And shame and blame are the opposite of grace, which is God-given and life-giving.
Instead, perhaps, we might simply accept God's grace, which inspires us to love.
And if we move away from shame and blame, we also move away from shaming and blaming those with whom we engage in public ministry - those who live in poverty, for example.
Different approaches might see us not blaming poor folk for their poverty, but simply seeing poverty as a lack of money, and the horrific vulnerability that creates for folk.
And different approaches might see us engaging in the task of seeking an end to poverty not because it's right or 'good for the poor', but because that is what is in the best interests of us all.
So we can move from having to do things right, to wanting to do things well; we can move from talking about God's love to showing it.
In response to a question about whether we leave our buildings open or close them, Donna considered what place our buildings play in our public ministry? I liked her thought that our buildings are an inheritance for the successive generations of the church, enabling each embodiment of the body of Christ to open up space in which to encounter God and build healing relationships. And that we undertake maintenance of the buildings because we do not want to leave a legacy of costly renovations for the next generation that they cannot afford. We look after the health of the body so that it may continue to thrive and grow into the future.
A final though: we cannot buy our way with hard word or good works. We can however, be part of the world by grace.
Other delights of the evening were catching up with friends, and engaging in thought-provoking conversation over dinner and after the lecture. I left with high anticipation for the Saturday and Monday sessions ...