Fragments of an old order: Reflections on the future of ministry

This reflection  was written by The Rev. Terry Hidichuk, interim Director of Pastoral Studies, for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.

I turned twenty-two in the summer of 1974. That autumn I found myself climbing the worn and ancient steps of Queen’s Theological College to begin my studies for ordination. I was a newly-minted candidate for ministry for the United Church of Canada. I was naïve, confused. I thought God was calling me to something, but I wasn’t sure what that was. At the end of the first week, we gathered for a meet and greet in the library at the College. I remember the room as majestic, a high ceiling, beige walls, accented by old oak trim. The smell of old books and fresh perked coffee and pastries mingled in the air. Like many of the students Bob Mumford had just arrived at Queens to take up the position of Professor of Pastoral Studies. Bob would over the next three decades or so become my mentor and most importantly my friend. But that morning when we started to talk he was an brand new professor and I was brand new theolog.  That is what they used to call us back then.

So Terry what are you planning to do? he said.
I don’t know maybe I ‘ll go into social work after this?
That would be interesting but pastoral ministry is a worthy way to spend a lifetime.

That is what I did. Not so much because of Mumford’s invitation but that was the way God and the Holy Spirit shaped my call. Who knows, maybe Mumford’s nudge was God working in mysterious ways. I’m not sure my ministry was filled with wonders to perform but pastoral ministry was a worthy way to spend a lifetime.

But the Church I first got ordained in is not figuratively or metaphorically the church of today. There is a scene from one of my favourite movies that illustrates the point:

The plot of Ron Howard’s movie Apollo 13 revolves around the true story of three astronauts who face the prospect that they will be marooned in outer space. At one point, towards the climax of the movie, the astronauts are running out of breathable air. The round filter that scrubs their oxygen has reached capacity. The only replacement is a filter that is square in shape. The director of space operations grabs a box and fills it with everything the astronauts have available to them. The list includes duct tape, socks, plastic notebook covers. He dumps the contents of the box on the table in a room where several engineers wait. He turns to them, holding the version of the square filter and round receptacle and says: Folks you have on hour to make this fit using only these materials. 

Such is the dilemma, of pastoral ministry in these days. Like those engineers who were tasked to restore breathable air in the capsule, ministry has one life sustaining goal, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, using some of the bits, pieces and fragments of an old order. Some well used, some degraded and some replaced.

That will be the task of pastoral ministry. This is far different work than what I was first called to do almost a half century ago. But I know some things will remain the same. It is still a shared ministry. The church sets some apart but you never walk alone. Ours is an incarnational faith. God in Christ accompanies us. I never felt that every day, but on most days, and that was enough.

Ah, MST I hardly knew ya and now it is time to say good bye. Let me leave with this message:  pastoral ministry is a good way to spend a lifetime. Blessings to all.