Deacon Annie Watson in the middle. Left: Fr. Ryan Cox, Priest at St. Luke's Eucharist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Right: Fr. Daniel Kostakis, Priest at Bloomington Inclusive Mass in Bloomington, Indiana.
“Expanding Our Ministry”
Annie Watson, Deacon, ARCWP
February 8, 2015
Seldom has there been such a successful beginning to one’s ministry. After all, we’re talking about Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is brief and precise. When the curtain opens, John the Baptist is the first to appear on the stage, practicing a ministry of baptism and repentance at the Jordan River.
A Galilean, Jesus of Nazareth, comes to the Jordan to be baptized, receives his call from God, takes time out in the wilderness to contemplate his call, and then begins his ministry with the simplest of messages: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
His homilies were not very long at first.
His confidence soon grew, however, with the recruitment of his first followers, simple fishermen they were, brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John, and probably a few unmentioned women as well. On the Sabbath they entered a synagogue in the fishing community of Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee.
Somehow Jesus managed to persuade the local leaders to allow him to teach. His homilies were gaining some depth and the audience was astonished at the confidence with which he taught.
As is always true when a newcomer gets some accolades, someone will find something to complain about. Mark describes one particular fellow as having an “unclean spirit,” which is a first century way of saying he had lost his ever-loving mind. The possessed man is so paranoid and fearful of Jesus that he asks, “Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus effectively tells him to “Shut up!” It worked. The man was humiliated enough to retreat into silence.
Jesus didn’t have to wait long for his next ministry opportunity: bringing healing to Simon’s mother-in-law. Ministering to those closest to us is often the case when we are just getting started.
By that evening everyone was bringing their sick and possessed to him. He must have felt like a lone doctor in a war zone. Whatever he was doing, people were buying into it. They were trusting it. His reputation as a healer and exorcist was growing exponentially.
Finally, he managed to get away from it all. He retreated to a dark, deserted place, praying, while everyone else was sleeping. It’s amazing he was still awake, although after a long day of healings and exorcisms, maybe he needed a long time to wind down.
The disciples must have been able to sleep for a while, but then someone notices that Jesus is not with them, so they go looking for him. “Everyone is searching for you,” they said to him.
He tells them that maybe it’s best to go to some neighboring towns, places that haven’t yet been stirred up by his presence. So, with very little sleep and no Starbucks coffee to drink, he takes his ministry on the road, a village-to-village walk of compassion and healing.
I see a couple of similarities between the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and our ministry today. First, we have our detractors as well. Much like the man with an unclean spirit who claimed Jesus had come to destroy them, there are people today who look at our inclusive Catholic communities and come to the same conclusion.
Recently, Cardinal Raymond Burke blamed the demise of the Catholic Church on women. He told an interviewer, “Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved. Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out.”
We hear this kind of blame all the time. “Same-sex marriage is ruining traditional marriage!” “Amnesty for immigrants will destroy our economy!” “The war protestors are enabling our enemies!”
Personally, I truly hope that women and other inclusive Catholics are “destroying” what the Church has been. We would know we are doing something right if people ask us, “Have you come to destroy us?”
The second similarity I see between the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and our ministry today is the need to expand.
In the business world people talk about “expanding the brand.” A company successfully specializes in a particular product. Then one day they decide that if they can make one good product, maybe they can make two or three or more. So they use their expertise to develop other products. They expand their brand.
As inclusive Catholic communities, we are just now beginning to have a brand. We are beginning to make a name for ourselves. At the moment, we have only a few “products” to sell, an ordination here and there, a community here and there. We are slowly developing our product through small gatherings around the country and around the world, and we need to continue to expand.
One day Jesus decided to expand his ministry—his brand—and the rest is history. Even after his death his followers continued to expand his ministry, going to places he may have never dreamed possible. This is what we are called to do at this time in our history—to expand our ministry and our brand, to reach people and places that didn’t seem possible a few years ago.
This is what this gospel text is imploring us to do. As our reputation for being inclusive and compassionate grows, we must grow with it, becoming entrepreneurial in our approach, making sure our message gets a fair hearing in the marketplace of ideas.
The curtain has surely opened for us, the story is progressing, but now is not the time to rest on our laurels. It’s time to emerge from our dark and deserted places and journey to neighboring towns and villages. Everyone deserves an opportunity to hear and see a Gospel of inclusivity. It might as well be us.
Do you think the Catholic Church believes the women’s priest movement is set on “destroying” the church? If so, what needs to be “destroyed”?
Think like an entrepreneur. Are there some ways we can “expand our brand” that we aren’t already doing?