Deserts and the Parish

This past Sunday our closing hymn at Reconciler’s service, was “Your Kingdom Come, O Father”, the final verse reads “The desert, as you promised,  Shall blossom far and near; and through earth’s mist and shadows the sun ‘mild rays appear.  For that blest day we wait, Lord, when doubt and darkness gone, we witness earth’s redemption , and summer morn shall dawn.”  That verse along with David Nyvall’s essay the “Expanding Parish Boundary” , have me thinking about my ministry (priestly goth) as one both pastoral and (new) monastic.

Monday’s are my “day off.” (which is tricky since my living doesn’t come solely from being a pastor)  I don’t do any work specific to Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, and seek to not do any work directly related to my being Prior of Holy Trinity.  But neither ministries are very official. I don’t have an office: spiritual direction and pastoral counseling and conversation  rarely take place in a formal setting.  Ministry of a priestly goth is social, it is about presence, virtual and in the neighborhood where I live.

This past Monday as I was using social media I received a request for prayer, it led to a short but all the same, pastoral conversation.  It is with a person I know, but not well. the person is in my social networks, virtual and actual. His request and the conversation wasn’t something I could just ignore, tell him to come to the office at such and such a time.  In some sense at that moment I was his pastor, his priest.  I don’t know why, other than that he knows I’m a pastor.  Perhaps he simply saw me on line and knew i was a pastor and so reached out to me in a moment of need.  It was not bounded in any of the ways pastoral ministry has been bounded and we were taught in seminary to bound our ministry. (this is another post, I mention this not to critique my seminary training, or other ways of bounding ministry, simply to point out a difference.  Also, without these other forms of boundary and limits, I would have little clue how to act in healthy ways, in this vastly different context.)    This reminded me of David Nyvall‘s (founder of North Park University and Theological Seminary), collection of essays in which he writes about how an ordained minister has an ever-expanding parish boundary.  At times the landscape of my life and ministry seems a bit like a flat expanse of wilderness.  The features seem indistinguishable, where one thing begins and another ends isn’t always clear.

Except in the little things.

On my way to the bank I ran into a friend from the Goth scene, who has recently moved back into the neighborhood.  He was on the phone I was on the phone, I passed by with a wave we met up on my way back.   On the way back from the bank outside a local coffee shop I saw a former member of the community, who now lives in Philadelphia.  She’s a musician she was an artist in residence while a member of the community and struggling to believe in her self as an artist and musician.  It turns out she was in town passing through on tour.  She’s produced an album, she has plans and dreams for the future as a musician.   Her time at the community was one of great struggle and uncertainty.  When she left we had hopes but it was not clear what would happen.  In many ways her time with us was very much a wilderness and desert without blossom.  As we talked on the corner I remembered the promise of God we sung this past Sunday.

Here right before my eyes was a desert in bloom, as God had promised.

On the way home I walked with my friend, we talked mostly about his struggles, the deserts in his life, and the hope of rain and the beauty of desert blossoms.  When we parted ways I realized I wasn’t sure if we had talked as friends or as pastor (though he is not a Christian).  On one level it didn’t matter, except if I must somehow keep a realm bounded off from my calling as a minister of Word and Sacrament (as my denomination describes my calling and ordination).

The first monastics went into the desert and people followed, found them out.  The visitors came at all times, without regard to times of fasting, or work, or prayer.  The Abbas and the Ammas were clear, the hermit, the monk was to receive not only the person but what they brought whatever it was.   I may not be in a literal desert but the city is full of  deserted seemingly lifeless places, and full of people seeking life (often in destructive ways) in the deserted desolate places of their own souls, and in which I meet the wilderness in my soul.  Slowly I am coming to see that the desert is my parish, an “ever-expanding parish of the Kingdom of God.”  David Nyvall saw this boundless realm as an ordained ministers “territory”, the parish no longer bounded by territory, or rather only bounded by the ever-expanding territory of God’s reign in the world, a rain that brings life and beauty to places we have abandoned, the desert.

  • Exquisite, Larry, and thank you. While I think that boundaries are important, I’m not sure that I am the only one that gets to define what mine are.

    Much food for thought.

    • Larry Kamphausen

      Thank you. yes boundaries are important. For instance, I still plan to take Monday’s off even though they may be interrupted by divine appointments.