Recently, I went to the World Student Christian Federation Pacific Subregional Women’s Programme on “Healing ourselves, our communities and our planet.” It was an amazing experience, and I think it will give me much to reflect on for a long time.
As part of the programme (which was held at Puketeraki Marae, near Karitane on New Zealand’s South Island), the organisers asked Councillor Jinty MacTavish, the youngest woman ever elected to serve on Dunedin’s City Council, to come and speak to us about her work as it related to our theme. Someone present asked her, given the complexities of politics and the fact that the desire to make a positive difference is often frustrated by bureaucracy, compromise and distraction, what she saw as the most important thing in her work.
Cr. MacTavish’s answer struck me as being very profound. I didn’t manage to capture it word for word, but in effect she said that the most important thing in creating positive change was creating and supporting a community of people who are asking questions of ultimate concern, and committed to acting as best they can on the answers. Having such a community is foundational to everything else.
I don’t know what religious conviction – if any – Cr. MacTavish holds. But it struck me that she had described so very neatly what the church ought to be in the world; a community of people asking questions about things that really matter, and committed to acting on the answers.
Yet so few congregations really do this well. Some are not truly acting as a community but are a collection of individuals who come together for worship. Some don’t want to have to confront hard questions. Some struggle to take the step to move from reflecting to action.
It seems to me that part of my job in ministry is not to settle for that, but to keep encouraging people to remember that in order to be salt and light in the world we have to actually do stuff. And to be effective about it. Cr. MacTavish’s answer reminded me that this is not an optional extra in ministry, but may well be one of the most important things I can do.