by The Reverend Deacon Paul K. Bates
A poignant event occurred at the end of a lecture that I had given to a second year undergraduate commerce class at McMaster University, about two weeks before exams.
There were some two hundred and fifty students seated in a steeply banked auditorium. The goal of the lecture, among other things, was to inspire these young people to be encouraged, dedicated in their studies, and prepared for the world. The lecture continued as an encouragement to seek one’s own path, concluding by affirming that every human being is a unique and special person.
My time came to an end and I made my way out of the auditorium, looking at my watch and thinking about where I needed to be next. As I made my way to the exit, a student moved into my path and asked me a question. The student went on to say that she did not feel very special, and became quite emotional.
I knew right away that nothing else in my day mattered more than stopping to talk with her. I saw her. We stood there together in the entrance to the lecture hall for some time. She told me about her studies, her aspirations, and her challenges. The clear message that I received from God was that my only task from that moment on was to be with this student, for as long as it took.
As a teacher, I was being prepared for diaconal ministry. Working with Reverend Sue-Ann Ward, and in my adjacent life as a teacher and consultant, I am brought to the hospital, graveside, classroom and boardroom. While some words are required in every situation, I have learned that it is the sacred call to simply “being with people” that is frequently the most critical of our roles.
I have often said that after nine years in grad school, the most important thing I have learned is when to shut up!
I have learned that sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, our simple, quiet and attentive, presence is enough to make a profound impact on people. We must listen but we must listen knowledgeably. In other words, we must explore and understand the epistemological perspectives that will frame a person’s dialogue with us.
The challenge of course is, that before we can listen, we have to meet them.
Beyond Sunday morning, Sue-Ann and I seek ways to enter into dialogue with people.
My ministry is grounded in the belief that these interactions give way to opportunity for soul care.
Ministers are called, gently and lovingly, to disrupt the struggles and difficulties of daily life. We witness the essential moment of soul care—the moment of soul-full rebirth and restoration, when the overwhelming love of God can and will reverse the effects of living in the world, wiping away anxiety, sorrow, anger, and disappointment.
The Deacon’s Bench is a new feature in The Niagara Anglican. Each month we will hear from a Deacon serving a parish under a Bishop’s Letter of Permission. Each will inform us about the ministry s/he conducts in their parish and the wider community. This month’s columnist is The Reverend Deacon Paul K Bates, of Grace Church (Waterdown).