Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Marginilization, Mission & Ministry

I’ve been thinking a lot about marginalization lately. It isn’t hard to do in my context. I attend seminary in an upper-middle class city. The majority of our students, faculty and staff are used to asking the question of what it means to be marginalized, and where our responsibilities should lie. We even have certain degree requirements that are meant to address marginalization. And yet, as well-intended as we may be, we still have a long way to go as a seminary community, particularly if we continue to address marginalization only from the comforts of our classrooms.

As a deacon candidate, I am thankful to get the opportunity to dialogue with deacons from all over the country. It took me years to discern my calling to the diaconate, and I count myself blessed to be in a place in which that questioning could occur. I was also glad to find out that this year’s topic for the Deacon Dialogue is “Opting for the Margins.” I am excited to hear about marginalization from others – from people who are in full-time ministry. I am also acutely aware of my own self in this topic. I identify myself as a quadruple minority in the United Methodist Church – A woman, young adult, Native American, pursuing the diaconate. In the last year or so I have often asked myself, “What am I still doing here?” According to statistics, I shouldn’t be here.

A few months ago, a dear friend of mine asked me what we do at our deacon meetings on campus. He was curious if it was a chance for the deacon candidates to get together and bash elders, and wondered if some students were choosing the diaconate to “be marginalized.” I assured him that we were not gathering to plot chaos for the church, but that we meet to learn from each other and try to understand our roles more clearly. His other concern – that people choose the diaconate to feel marginalized – has resonated deeper.

There are many ways that we can make ourselves victims. We can, and do, put ourselves in unhealthy situations professionally and personally. We can set ourselves up for failure if we don’t trust in the gifts that God has given us. We can remain in churches that continue to foster hostility and brokenness. We cannot, however, “choose to be a deacon” to become marginalized. As I have talked to deacons and deacon candidates the last few years, the strongest thing I am told is that this calling chooses them. It has nothing to do with replacing our mission with ourselves. Labeling a particular group of people as a “minority” does not mean that they must be marginalized.

If we are so concerned about being “othered” for its own sake, we are not being true to who God calls us to be, nor are we being true to those with whom we minister. We are not the subject here, and we can’t afford to neglect our responsibility in asking ourselves what—and who—is important in our ministries.

Today, I will not accept anyone telling me that I must be marginalized, or take actions that threaten my spirit. As a privileged people, we have a responsibility to those who do not have the power to speak for themselves. I sincerely hope that—through our “discussions,” questions and sharing together—we will learn what it means to be a source of hope for our hurting world. We are real people with real callings, and we want real transformation. It doesn’t mean we’ve got it all figured out, or that we ever will, but it does mean that we figure it out more faithfully together.