My daughter and son-in-law are in seminary preparing for a life of ministry. In a phone conversation, my daughter shared what a difference life “in the real world” is compared to college as she works full-time to help support her new family as they work through graduate school.
“When you work, you hardly have any time anymore!”
After I hung up the phone, a thought occurred to me: what an important lesson for anyone preparing for ministry. She and her husband will be embarking on a life filled with people who are working full-time jobs, juggling marriage and children, and giving of themselves to the building of the church. They have little time, and so many give so generously of what they have to Christ and His kingdom.
I hope she will always remember how it feels. Knowing her, I’m sure she will.
And when she does, she’ll come to the same conclusion I have come to through all these many years as a pastor: a volunteer is a saint.
The word “saint” means “those who are set apart,” and volunteers set themselves apart in ways that separate them from all other human beings who walk this earth.
Saints watch your child so you can attend the service they must listen to on tape.
Saints park your car in the rain so that you can rush in under your umbrella.
Saints are standing outside on Sunday mornings at 7 a.m. waiting to unload a truck to turn a gym or a school into a church; and then working long after everyone has left to break it all back down.
Saints prepare a lesson, and often their home, to serve you in a small group setting so that you can experience community and support.
Saints practice for long hours on an instrument or vocally on a song, then brave stage fright in order to give you an experience of worship or a sense of the transcendent through the arts.
Saints are visiting you in the nursing home, the prison, the hospital, being present in your dis-ease with their own discomfort.
Saints are pouring into the lives of your teenager when you may not feel you have the time, or the ability.
Saints are preparing programs which you will be handed this weekend, doing the “grunt” work that makes so much happen for those of us who are oblivious.
Saints are…well, being Saints.
As C.S. Lewis observed, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit...Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses."
And the holiest of all are the ones who will serve you this week.
James Emery White
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: MacMillan/Collier, 1949); this was taken from a sermon titled "The Weight of Glory" at Solemn Evensong in the twelfth-century Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on June 8, 1941.