For a moment yesterday, the distinction between worship and the rest of life disappeared. Upon reflection, and maybe because it was St. Patrick’s Day, I have begun to understand it as what the Celts called a “thin place.” In Christian Celtic spirituality the term “thin place” is used to describe an extraordinary encounter with the sacred in the midst of our ordinary lives. Scripture reminds us, “in [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and so we have these two realms, God’s and ours, around us at all times. The boundary separating the two realms the Celts referred to as a veil, and every once in a while we are privileged to stand in a place where the veil is very thin, and heaven and earth meet. A “thin place” then, to use different words, is a moment when our world and worship embrace, when the distinction between our “spiritual lives” and our “everyday lives” disappears.
I was rushing to my office between services to drop off my guitar and change into my robe, when I was greeted by a member of the congregation in tears. I immediately invited the person into my office for a pastoral counseling session on the spot – one of the blessings of being an associate pastor is the flexibility to opt out of worship for a time such as this. After we chatted, prayed, and said goodbye, I looked at the clock and noted the service was only about half over. There was still time for me to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
I quickly put on my robe and stole, attached my microphone and headed toward the communion table at the appropriate time. I participated in the liturgy, then served by tearing pieces of bread from the loaf and placing them in the waiting hands of our congregants as I said to each, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” It was then I found myself in the thin place, a sacred moment, a blending of the realms.
I was overcome by the connection between the pastoral counseling session in my office and the sacrament in the sanctuary. Both of these acts were about offering the love of Christ to those who were longing, hurting, lonely, confused, afraid, desperate, angry, repentant, doubt-filled, hope-filled, humble, anxiety-ridden, and yet ready-to-receive. Both were moments when words did not come easy, yet connection was deep. The meal Jesus shared with his disciples on that Thursday afternoon; the meals he shared with the likes of Matthew, Zacchaeus, and the woman who dried his feet with her hair; and the conversations we have across the desk in the associate pastor’s office or a table in Starbucks are all connected. Christ is present in it all, meeting us in our brokenness, offering us his strength and peace. This is the essence of ministry.
As associate pastors and other staff ministers, we often serve behind the scenes – planning events, developing ministry programs, making visits, keeping records, and the like. Yesterday I was reminded that all the ministry tasks for which I’m responsible are a means to an end and not the end themselves. The true goal is to offer Christ – across the desk, in the sacrament, and in our programming.