Suddenly Nothing Mattered

Saturday night is a busy time for 911.

Frank and Sue were clubbing at the close of a busy week, dancing and drinking. Arriving home at midnight, they started arguing, yelling in each other’s face.

This fight was furious. But suddenly, whatever the problem was, it went away. Right in the middle of their curse-out contest, Frank dropped to the floor. Dead.

The argument was over. Sue won!

The marriage was over too. In one failed heartbeat, Sue went from angry wife to grieving widow.

Amid her panic, she managed to phone for help. As paramedics wheeled Frank’s shrouded body out the door, the police escorted Sue, sobbing and screaming, off to the station. They needed to determine that no crime had occurred.

All they got from Sue was hysteria. “Frank! Frank! I’m sorry! Dear God! I’m really sorry! I just want him back! Now!”

Instead of Frank, I walked in the door of the interrogation room. Talking soothingly to Sue, I lightly touched her forearm as male chaplains are trained to do. But she needed to be hugged and held like a baby by a mother. Only a woman could really do that.

I told the detective in the hall outside the door I needed dispatch to summon Julie. Our church secretary by day, Julie was a county-trained volunteer crisis responder by night, working with chaplains from various churches. Julie had won the respect of the department by the way she helped a mother whose son drowned in a boating accident.

Julie arrived 2:30 a.m., Chaplain’s Standard Time. She cradled Sue in her arms, gently rocking her maternally. Soon the convulsive sobbing became quieter quivering, which gradually subsided. I slipped out of the room and told the detective that now they could interview Sue. My job was done for the night, thanks to Julie.

Ministry in Community

The cliché says it best: Sometimes the right man for the job is a woman. All police agencies recognize that certain responsibilities and crises are better managed with a woman’s particular skills and intuition.

You might be interested in how Julie became a crisis counselor.

Upon arriving as church pastor, I soon realized Julie’s ministry potential transcended her secretarial job description. I could trust her to make decisions that normally would be pastoral discretion. She became basically the unofficial administrative pastor. I don’t remember Julie making any misjudgments — although it would have been fine if she had because she would have acknowledged them and grown accordingly.

I’ve made my share of pastoral misjudgments. But not regarding Julie.

I also noticed that Julie had leadership ability — and was a Spirit-filled disciple. She had earned the church members’ deep respect and soon became our women’s ministries leader.

Julie manifested calmness, compassion and wisdom in crisis, a rare combination and a sure qualification for chaplaincy — except the county required all chaplains to be ordained pastors. So I sponsored her for training as a crisis counselor in support of the chaplaincy team.

Soon we worked together not only as paid employees in the church office but on a volunteer basis for the various law enforcement agencies that operated in our county. Julie is now a licensed chaplain, as fully a minister of God as I am — and was from the day she committed her life to God for service.

So is every member of the church in God’s worldwide community of priests. Many others in our congregation had ministry discovery testimonies as Julie did, each in their unique way. Someday I’ll write a book devoting individual chapters to their stories. Meanwhile I cherish the memory of how they blended their various personalities, backgrounds and experiences into a symphony of service for the congregation and the community.

Fruit Salad, Not a Smoothie

In religious cults, that’s not how it works. Instead, a megalomaniac leader bullies everybody into submission. He may even assign his deluded disciples new names to reflect his vision for their life. Whatever God had in mind in creating that particular individual doesn’t matter to him — he defines reality. The group becomes like a fruit smoothie, homogenized and seasoned to the taste of the leader.

A healthy church community, by contrast, is a fruit salad. All members retain their God-given particularity, synchronizing with other members. Individual identity finds meaning, purpose and expression in serving together with all other priests in the ministry community.

It’s like honeybees doing their job in a flowering orchard. Cross-pollination of ministry spreads God’s blessings everywhere. As our High Priest in heaven expresses His spiritual giftedness through our various ministries on Earth, we serve one another while serving Him.

The digital age opens up new doors for ministry by younger members. More on this in a future column.

March 15, 2018 / Perspective
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