What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed… But God gives it a body. – 1 Corinthians 15:36-38 (NIV)
Umberto Eco, author of the popular novel The Name of the Rose, coined the term opera aperta: “open work.” It is art left intentionally open by the artist to be completed by someone else, or by intersection with something else, or even by chance. While Eco was referring to works of art, it is a useful model for thinking through the idea of ministry. All ministry, like art, is open to interpretation.
I like to think of the work of clergy as a tag team across seasons and generations. I know we’ve gotten all twitterpated by boundaries and borders. When pastors leave a parish, we disappear. We set a boundary. That’s all good.
But you can’t have been in parish ministry very long if you don’t know that the work of the previous pastor(s) impacts yours, might even be more than significant to yours. The quality of the Sunday School mattered. The quality of the preaching mattered. The quality of the pastoring mattered. It sticks around. I like to pray: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, may another sister take my place.” I want to pass a baton to somebody who knows how to catch. I want to catch a pass that somebody knows how to throw. I want the quality of my ministry to flourish as a tag-team, from generation to generation.
Minister to ministers, you who left things open so that we may complete each other, open our work so that we forgo charism on behalf of teamwork. Amen.
Donna Schaper works nationally for Bricks and Mortals, a NYC-based organization that provides sustainable solutions for sacred sites. Her newest book is Remove the Pews: Spiritual Possibilities for Sacred Spaces, from The Pilgrim Press.