The M Word

No this is not a reference to a TV show about the lives and relationships of metrosexual men. The M word as in Ministry. This pesky word has come up a few times recently. After my performance at Guilford College during the Q&A session, one woman stood up with the outrageous question,

When did you know you were called to ministry and what is the nature of the ministry that God has called you to?

I was floored by the question and experienced a rare moment of speechlessness. The next day at the Mid-Winter Gathering of the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (aka Queer Quakers), several Friends came to me with the question, How can we support you in your ministry? Hmmm, you can start by not referring to it as a ministry; that word creeps me out. Besides I am a THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE ACTIVIST! I do funny plays (which you can read about in this new article that In Newsweekly just published.) Not ministry.

Perhaps it is because I once felt very called to ministry. After a time when an ex-gay group prayed for me as I prepared for a short-term mission trip to Ecuador when I was 19, someone in the LIFE Ministries Ex-Gay group meeting handed me a slip of paper. It contained a prophesy about my ministry. Well, I was an Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian, NOT a Charismatic Pentecostal Christian, so I didn’t even believe in that stuff. But I still remember the words to this day (and keep them to myself).

Today I spoke at Chelsea Community Church in NYC. It is a lay-led church where they have a special speaker every week, no one on staff, just volunteers. Months ago they asked me to be their speaker and as we got closer to the event, I learned that much more was required. Will you bless the offering, give the pastoral prayer and the benediction? I tried to explain that it is not part of my Quaker world, which is a wonderful cover for saying, I feel incredibly uncomfortable doing all of those ministerial things.

Recently reading the words of William Penn where he teaches about Quaker ministers, I felt challenged when he stressed how ministers should not go in with prepared messages or follow any forms of worship, liturgy or sacraments. Just sit and wait in the silence until a message forms. Can you imagine if I told that to the Chelsea Church? Okay folks, for the first half of my sermon, I will say nothing and hope that I get a sense of what I will say for the second half. I mean I am all for it, but how would they feel.

Then two weeks before the event, the organizers wanted to know my theme and asked me to pick hymns and a scripture that went along with it. Theme? Hymns? I have no clue of what I will say or if I will have anything to say. I hedged and came up with a general title and chose two hymns that I like to sing. They then wanted a hymn for right before my sermon. I suggested that we just have silence instead of a hymn?

And that is exactly what we did. I guess you would call it a programmed Quaker meeting of sorts. I side-stepped the pastoral blessing and praying over the offering. When it came time for the benediction, I quoted Audre Lorde.

And when I was done, a little old lady came up to me, shook my hand and said, “Thank you so much for your ministry to us this morning.” Dang, there it is again, the M word!

This post has 7 Comments

  1. grace on February 26, 2007 at 1:39 am Reply

    Peterson,
    I’ve had the exact same reaction at times because I’ve also been referred to with the “M” word. I swear, sometimes I think we’ve been living in some sort of parallel universe or were fraternal twins seperate at birth. crazy.

    Anyway…you’ve certainly ministered to me and I have no problem using that word as a descriptor for you. Just don’t be callin’ ME that! hahahaha!!!

    love and grace,
    pam

  2. ElliotManning on February 26, 2007 at 6:00 pm Reply

    Ministry?!?!?! You don’t minister! You speak, and we love it.

    Right, y’all?

  3. KJ on February 26, 2007 at 7:06 pm Reply

    Oh. I thought the “M” word was Minnesota.

    Ministry — It’s quite simple in my mind, but I’m a a simple man. We’re ALL ministers. Full stop.

  4. SteveSchalchlin on February 27, 2007 at 12:09 am Reply

    I see you got spammed by the same idiot that spammed my board.

  5. Steve on February 27, 2007 at 12:36 am Reply

    OK, I can understand – a little – your ire with the “M” word.

    But if you dig into the source of the word “minister” and “ministry,” it comes back to shepherding – leading a flock, guiding them, caring for them.

    And that, I’m afraid, is where you’re screwed on this argument.

    Go ahead. Tell me that your words do not serve to guide and inform people about your life, and about GLBT folks in general. Tell me that you are called to speak at so many churches just to help uptight Christians not take themselves so damn seriously.

    Tell me that deep down, you don’t hope that your words might change lives and hearts and minds about gay people, gay life, and gay people of faith. Tell me that your “entertainment” is not meant to uplift and brighten the lives of GLBT folks, and make them laugh at some of the silly, silly stuff that Christians (even the well-meaning ones) do to us in the name of their God.

    If you can tell me those things, then I’ll believe you’re not “doing ministry.”

    Otherwise, my friend, I’d have to say that “if it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck…”

    Or, as one of my favorite fictional character, Agamemnon Jones, is wont to say: “Concerning all things spiritual, when your work speaks for itself… don’t interrupt.”

    [FYI – you can delete the “child of God’s” comment if you like. Look under “deleting comments” in Blogger help…]

  6. Peterson Toscano on February 27, 2007 at 12:38 am Reply

    And I deleted it. Madness.

  7. Contemplative Activist on February 28, 2007 at 6:58 pm Reply

    Brother Peterson,

    Your ministry is a blessing to all the brethren, and also to the heathen.

    😉

    CA

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