Clare Rabjohns calls on us to identify and use our God-given strengths, because every person who is part of God’s Church is called to an extraordinary purpose
According to the distinguished source Wikipedia, I understand that Postman Pat is now happily married to Sarah and they have a six-year-old child called Julian. On this website Sarah is described as ‘a modern mother who juggles work and childcare, looking after Julian whilst working part-time as a waitress in the Station Cafe’. Both Sarah and the whole family seem to conform to the social norms of this modern age.
Now, when I was a little girl (and that is not so long ago!) Postman Pat was not married. He was happy to work hard at his job with his cat Jess for a companion. He was a well-rounded character who had an active and social life with many friends in the village.
This may seem like a very in-depth observation of a children’s television programme. However, it seems to me to be making a pertinent point. The character of Pat is being changed and moulded into a more acceptable, modern man. It would not apparently be adequate any more for him to be content with his cat.
We are not happy for people to carry on ordinary everyday lives or simply to exist without further agenda. In Britain today our children are experiencing mental health problems and severe stress. Could this be perhaps because we are exposing them to immense pressure? Everyone is under the constant demand to achieve. This in itself is not a bad thing but does not recognize the fact that for some people, everyday life is enough.
Now this is not to say that everyday life is ordinary or boring. For a single mother who struggles daily to send her children to school and earn money to feed them, that is everyday life, but her life is extraordinary. For Postman Pat, he (in times past) would spend an average day going about his business but also talking to people along the way and helping them out, solving their problems. That was his everyday life but again, an extraordinary one – that had a positive impact on others and made a change.
Exodus 4.2 says ‘What is that in your hand?’ God is speaking to Moses and asking him a direct question. Moses was holding his shepherds staff which represented his everyday life, his job, his life, his skills and his talents. It was these things that were already in the hand of Moses that made his everyday life extraordinary.
A wider calling
God asks this question to all of us: ‘What is that in your hand?’ We all have strengths, talents, skills and abilities that we are holding in our hand. We also have weaknesses and difficult experiences which we are also holding. All of these have been lovingly placed into our hands by God and they are there for a reason. God uses people who lead ordinary everyday lives for extraordinary purposes and plans.
Like Postman Pat we are often expected to fit into a certain category. There are people who try to tidy up loose ends and pigeonhole us. A friend of mine was recently confirmed and a week or so after his confirmation he and I attended a weekday Mass as we regularly do at our church. A visiting priest said the Mass and when he found out that my friend had just been confirmed he urged him to start thinking about ordination.
This in itself is not a bad thing; all of us – especially young people in the church – need encouragement to find our place. But this does not always lie in the path to ordination. The priest also failed to encourage me to any kind of ministry in the Church despite the fact that I was confirmed twelve years ago. This is because I am female and in his mind this evidently means I am not eligible for ordination; he could therefore see no other place for me, and ignored anything that I could have to offer.
I am not in any way advocating that I should have been encouraged to be ordained or that my friend should not. What the Church must realize, however, is the importance of a wider calling to ministry. The priest in this situation looked at my friend and me at face value and saw one of us eligible for ministry in Gods Church and one not. The fact is that both of us, and all of us, are called to minister.
Lay ministry is largely bypassed and forgotten by many people in the Church today. This is not to say that it does not exist because it is rabidly evident as, without it, the Church would have ceased to exist. Every single person who is a part of God’s Church, who lives an ordinary life, is called for extraordinary purposes and plans. And every single person who is a part of God’s Church, who lives an ordinary life, has in their hand the skills and talents to carry out those plans. God has placed into their hands these abilities. As Postman Pat did not need to be married off to achieve his role in life, we do not need to be cleverer, more musical, more artistic, nor even ordained to achieve ours. I am sure that Postman Pat is happily married, but his role in life lies in other areas: his service to the community and his friendship.
Women and men alike need not think that to serve God, it is necessary to be ordained. What we need in the Church today is a revitalization of lay ministry. What the Church needs more and more is pastoral assistants, lay readers, servers, eucharistic ministers, musicians, youth leaders, children’s workers, and many more ordinary people who are called to extraordinary purposes and plans. So the Church, and we, need to start thinking about what God has placed into our hands.