15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:25-37
July 14, 2019

July 30, I will be celebrating 25 years of ordained ministry. For me, this is an occasion to look back over the past quarter century, reflecting on how I put this time to use. A little booklet that was published by Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Ubly, Michigan, provided me with a lot of food for thought. This was my first assignment as a pastor.

The book that triggered many memories, was a brief history of the parish from its foundation in 1887 until 2013. This is what was recorded about me:

In the winter of 1996, Fr. Randy Kelly replaced Fr. John Mullet. Due to the shortage of priests, Fr. Randy’s vision for the parish included parishioners accepting more responsibility for leadership roles in the church. He began training individuals for various leadership roles needed in the parish and set up for Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest.

It pleased me to be remembered for encouraging parishioners to live out their calling as disciples, according to the gifts and talents God has blessed them with. And while it’s an honor to be given credit for having “the vision” to recruit and encourage disciples, the truth is I can’t accept that credit. Anticipating “the priest shortage” was not about prophecy, it was simply a matter of arithmetic…doing the math! However, priest shortage or not…all of the baptized should always be encouraged to share the gifts and talents with which they have been blessed in order to build up the Body of Christ…our Church.

There is one detail about my work at St. John the Evangelist that I feel warrants a clarification. When I arrived, there was already sound, competent and very dedicated “leadership” in place. The parish council and finance committee were terrific. What I felt was needed was for more people to become involved in pastoral ministry.

In my mind, there is a distinction. Leadership often involves authority and control. Pastoral ministry, on the other hand, involves sacrifice and service. So I set out recruiting, training, and coaching people to put themselves at the service of others. In other words, I was looking for Good Samaratins, who were willing to respond to the needs of their neighbors, whether or not there was an emergency situation…and whether or not there was a priest available.

It wasn’t just a matter of recruiting bodies, either. Clearly, there is a skill set for the various ministries that make a parish work and work well. Not everyone can lead a vigil service. Many people are uncomfortable standing up and speaking in front of a room full of people…or should be anyway! Teachers have a special gift and catechesis is all about education.

But no matter what the ministry, or how talented a person might be, there is one quality that is absolutely critical to success…LOVE! Love of God, Church, and neighbor is a requisite to ministry.

A lot has changed at St. John the Evangelist since 1996. Three parishes have now been merged into one. This is the story all over our Diocese. But, what hasn’t changed in Ubly, or Vasser, or Palms, or Linwood, or Alma, or Oakely, or Ryan…or in any of the small communities that are part of The Body of Christ, is that good neighbors live there. So long as there are good neighbors…loving disciples, who are vigilant to the needs of the folks around them…even when there is no life and death emergency…even if there is no priest available…The Body of Christ will remain healthy.

It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed. What’s even more incredible is how things have changed in our world over this past quarter century. But, the vision remains the same. And it isn’t my vision. It is The Lords! LOVE AND SERVE ONE ANOTHER!

On to the next 25!