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  • Writer's pictureMo Lederman

A Cup of Tea and a Walk in the Park

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

It was a perfect bright, crisp, autumn day as we walked side by side in the park. I was with one of my beloved parishioners, and as it was one of the last truly gorgeous days before winter would arrive, we decided to go for a walk as we dreamed about our children’s program together. And, of course, the conversation naturally veered to other parts of our lives.

“Oh yeah,” she said as we walked along, “I learned that last month while my husband was in the hospital.”

My mind went into overdrive. “Wait! What? He was in the hospital? Did I know that? Is he okay?” All of my emotions flashed quickly through my body - worry about her husband and her state of being, shame for somehow having forgot this information and thus not attended to it properly at the time. My heart raced as I tried to keep an exterior of pastoral calm.

“Oh no! He’s fine. We didn’t tell you because it was just a small routine thing. He’s been cleared to get back up and finally start driving again as of last week. We didn’t want to bother you.”

With almost twenty years of parish ministry one thing I have learned is how much I don’t know. That certainly goes for a lot of things, but is especially true when it comes to the personal lives, thoughts and feelings of those I minister to. I like to believe that I am someone they can confide in, tell the truth to and share their lives. But people don’t always share their thoughts or what’s happening. They hold back for fear of being a burden or of hurting someone’s feelings. They don’t want to appear vulnerable. They think that we already know. (This one is especially tough.)

Before figuring out where the congregation is headed next, it’s important for leadership (clergy, wardens, vestry) to know where the members of the congregation are now. Without knowing their fears, hopes, joys, burdens, and beliefs it becomes almost impossible to find that new path forward.

One of my joys in parish ministry has been getting to know the people in my community outside of Sunday morning. While it can be challenging to find the time for one on one meetings, I have found them to be invaluable to understanding more fully the people I minister with. It’s only in getting to know the people I serve that I can begin to discern where God is calling both the individuals in the parish and our community as a whole.

I have found two things that help me make deeper personal connections with the people in my parish - a walk and a cup of tea. There is something about walking side by side, where you can hear each other's voices, but not necessarily be staring into each other’s faces, that allows for people to open up and say the things that have been on their hearts. When walking isn’t an option (because of weather or someone’s physical state) a good second best is a cup of tea (or coffee). Being able to hold a warm cup of joy allows people to relax and talk freely. More than anything these conversations shaped the ministry of the parish.

What have you found works for you? How do you get to know others in your parish (whether you serve as clergy or as a member)?

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