Why do we have religious communities? What purpose do religious leaders (i.e. ministers, pastors, etc.) serve? These are questions of ecclesiology, which is the big fancy seminary word for the study of church structure and organization. Typically the word refers to Christian churches, but I use the term more broadly here to simply mean religious organizations.
I don’t plan to answer these huge questions in this one blog post. But it is a topic that I intend to personally explore over this academic year as I serve a field study internship with Groveland Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Today I’ve been doing some self-reflection. I’ve noticed that when I notice a “sore spot,” be it in a congregation, a friend, or even myself, I tend to focus in on it. It’s not that I exclude everything else; I just develop a more sensitive awareness of this source of pain. This awareness allows me to make a decision of intent every time this “sore spot” comes up; I can avoid it, or I can speak strongly about it, or I can treat it gently.
The questions of ecclesiology come up when I start to question why I develop this awareness. What purpose does this awareness serve? What does it say about the way I perceive ministry and the role of the minister within a church?
I focus in on these “sore spots” because they are crying out to be healed. We live in a society that encourages us to ignore our problems. Every day we are bombarded with imagery, talk shows, commercials, and media that all offer us different placebos that will dull the discomfort we feel. But I’ve never heard of anyone who has found true healing by running from or ignoring a problem. Temporary, fitful relief, perhaps; but not true healing.
Therefore, I see ministry as a channel for providing true healing. By acknowledging and naming the problem, we open the door for its release.
But then the question arises: Why is it the responsibility of the religious organizations and the religious leaders to offer this healing?
The challenge here is to find an answer that pertains to Unitarian Universalism. As we are a denomination that is free from creed and dogma, we have no Bible to rely on for our answers. If we did, we could look to the Gospel of Luke 9:6 which says that the apostles “set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” Or perhaps Acts 4:30, which commands, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
But we Unitarian Universalists do not base our ecclesiology on what it says in the Bible. We prize reason, logic, and rational thought.
So what rationale do I have for believing that it is part of my responsibility as a minister to be working to bring healing to those whom I serve?
Simply this: Every living thing wants to heal. It is not, perhaps, the natural endpoint of things; we all tend toward entropy in the end, hence we die. But, as my field instructor articulated with me today, in between being born and dying, all living things want to fight to stay alive. When we are wounded physically, our bodies try to heal us. And similarly when we are wounded spiritually, our spirits long to be healed as well.
The problem we face is that the scars don’t form on the outside; there is no scab that forms to help us track the progress of our spiritual healing.
I propose that one reason people attend a religious organization is to seek out that spiritual healing. Just as a physician tends to healing and maintaining the physical body, a minister tends to the healing and maintaining of the human spirit.
Therefore I will continue to develop this awareness of “sore spots” and work to bring truth, love, and healing through my ministry to the people I serve.