My summer reading reintroduced me to the story of John, a Roman Catholic priest in London.
John had a dream of being in ministry with some of the lowest paid workers in London. After several years of church assignments that made this difficult, he took a job as a street sweeper. Without anyone knowing that he was a priest, he found his ministry each day among co-workers. It worked out wonderfully.
He was a bit older and a bit slower than the other street sweepers, and at the end of every day there was work he had not finished. The other street sweepers would gather and help finish his assigned work. They did not mind because they discovered very quickly that even though John was a bit older and a bit slower than the rest, he was a very good talker. When they had trouble with wages or working conditions, they would explain it to John and he would talk for them to the powers that be.
One morning John came to work and a small group of co-workers was waiting as they had done on many other occasions with some problem. Today their faces held more anguish than usual. They said, "John, something terrible has happened. Joe was found dead this morning." Joe was a 40-year-old co-worker. He had died in a home-made shed in an alley way. They said, "If we had only known Joe was sick, we could have done something. If we had only known Joe was having hard times, we could have helped in some way. Now it is too late. Joe is dead. We will never be able to do anything for Joe."
John said, "Maybe you are wrong. Maybe it's not too late to do something for Joe." They said, "What do you mean? He's dead. How can we help Joe?" John said, "At least we can give him a decent funeral." They responded, "That is a wonderful idea, but we would not know where to begin to have a funeral." It was at that moment when John revealed that he was a priest and that he would help them have a funeral.
At the end of the week, Joe's funeral took place in a church arranged by Father John. Street sweepers from all over London came for the service. When the service was over, but before anyone got up to leave, one of the street sweepers sitting near the front stood and looked out over the sea of street sweepers. With a dazed and puzzled look on his face he said, "How many more priests are there here?"
That is the question I would pose from this story! How many ministers are among us? But to quote Lovett Weems, who recalled the story to me, "All of us are ministers. All have a ministry. Ministry begins to the whole people of God."
As we consider our religious freedoms these days, we are indeed free to love, care and share as people of faith. While we hear the Supreme Court's recent decision limiting publicly broadcast student led prayers at sports events, regardless of your personal response, we also know that those public prayers are no real substitute for our personal ministries of prayer and relationship.
We are free to work for good, to listen to the cries of others, to reach out to the distressed. These more critical and effective freedoms of each person's ministry have not been thwarted.
In fact, this is perhaps the freedom we have not been exercising. Public school prayer is perhaps not the issue as much as having "ministers" in the streets, the bleachers, schools, homes, workplaces ... all the places of society.
Are you a minister of God's amazing, extravagant love that we have in Jesus Christ? Are you participating in a church that calls, supports and equips you in ministry?
That is a redemptive witness! Practice that freedom!
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