Monday, September 22, 2008

When push comes to shove

It's relatively easy to talk about extending grace and hospitality to others when you know and like them and they are easy to get along with. A, the homeless man we've had so many interactions with, though homeless, which for many is a HUGE stumbling block, is a good guy who's likable and helpful. It's a stretch for many in my congregation, but pretty basic for me. Well, then came I. Not a homeless man who showers in our sprinklers and sleeps in our gazebo, but a young teen who is defiant, rude, and, as my dear Jenna would say, "a pain in the tookas!" I'm sure he acts the way he does for a reason and am also convinced he needs church. He needs stability, discipline, guidance, teaching, and compassion. But sadly his presence comes at a big cost to others. We're losing adult volunteers and youth participants because he makes their time miserable, from swearing, to spitting, to slurs he constantly violence the sanctuary space of church (not the building but the environment). He doesn't listen. I've tried bartering. I've tried consequences. I've tried discussion. I've tried reason. I've tried sending him home. He won't cooperate and he won't leave. So the question becomes what do we do and what is too much? Is our commitment to one kid who is in serious need or to the other 10 that are present?

I know, I talk a lot about "it's not either or, it's both and." But somehow I'm not seeing the alternatives these days. We're going to try stricter rules, bringing mom into the situation, and a male authority presence to see if that helps. But I'd hate for the other kids to see our efforts to work with I as a neglect of them.

Tonight I saw the parallels of the two situations--the one with A and the one with I. They are both ministry issues. It's not just about outreach or education or worship. It's about all of those things. And in both cases the presence of "the other" makes at least a few uncomfortable, scared, and anxious. "The other" has real and concrete needs we as a church are called to care for. And at the same time, the established community also has spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical needs we also need to care for. So how do you do it? And how can I be consistent in both of these ministry issues when one presents a perceived threat and the other poses a real threat? Or is that the difference? Is that the defining line? And then what about those who pose "a real threat" who also need ministry, compassion, discipline, stability, and care?

The arguments, the murmuring, the fussing makes ministry challenging and frustrating, but these situations are what makes ministry really HARD.

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