“The Blessing of Being Present”
The Rev. Douglas Anders died yesterday. His body was tired from years of cancer and chemo. Not anymore. Now he is restored to wholeness in the expanse of God’s everlasting love.
Not only his body, but his mind and spirit must have been tired after so many years serving in ministry. I know Rev. Anders because for nine years he served as the Conference Minister for our South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ. He worked tirelessly for our 80-plus UCC congregations throughout Texas and parts of Louisiana, supporting our churches by supporting our pastors. All the while, he consistently advocated for the mission of our Conference and wider denomination of listening for God’s voice in the world, offering an extravagant welcome that extends from God’s open table, and changing lives through the transformative love of Jesus.
Today, giving witness to his life and ministry, I want to share something that he said a few years ago when he retired, something I think about often. At a monthly meeting of clergy and licensed lay ministers held at St. John’s UCC, Burton, Rev. Anders was our keynote speaker, offering some reflections on his years in ministry. He told us that what we should never take for granted is the blessing we have of seeing our people—our church members and everyone God places in our care—at their utmost best and their absolute worst and everything in between. With wise perspective, he reminded us that there is perhaps no other profession out there where people share with us their shameless, childlike joy in moments of celebration; their shameful, childlike anger in moments of rage (sometimes directed at us); their debilitating grief on occasions of terrible despair; and even their regrets, resentments, and most vulnerable fears. We minister types are invited into those spaces of snot-soaked tears and neighbor-waking screams and foundation-shaking laughter to just be there—to just hold that space as an incarnate presence of Christ. It’s an exhausting, beautiful gift, and Rev. Anders’ reflections continue to help me see how good it is to be invited into awkwardly sacred spaces to simply be present.
Today, I share this memory of Rev. Anders not to point out the set-aside nature of ordained ministry; rather, to encourage all of us to be present to one another, for one another, and with one another, regardless of our vocation in life. When Jesus told his followers—all of his followers—to love one another as we love ourselves, he wasn’t giving us a hallmark task meant to make us feel gratified after every convenient extension of kindness. He was telling us that this work of being present is urgently necessary to build up community that reflects the Kin-dom of God, and that this crucial work might be exhausting sometimes, but it is always good. And when we Jesus followers pray for our daily bread, God provides us with more than enough to replenish our exhausted mind, body and spirit in our shared pursuit of heaven on earth. No matter your station in life, be a blessing to others; and in so doing, you will ultimately be reminded of how very blessed you are.