As I was getting a cup of coffee before heading to teach a youth Sunday School class to follow up the work we had experienced together at ministrieslab on Sunday morning, the woman who took my order asked me, “Are you headed to the hospital?”
“No, actually heading to teach a youth Sunday School class. I’m a minister.”
“A minister?” she responded the surprise filling her face. “You don’t look like a minister. You’re too young.”
“Well, my baby did sleep a little better last night,” I responded jokingly. I thanked her as she handed me the cup to get my coffee. As I was filling it up, I noticed that she had made her way to where I was behind the counter.
“Pray for me,” she said.
“I’d be happy to. Do you have something going on?” I asked.
“No, just pray for me,” she said as she looked down at the dish towel in her hands.
“I will,” I said trying to give her a minute to elaborate if she wanted to. “Thank you for the coffee,” I said as I headed out the door.
As I took a sip of my coffee, I realized that even though I didn’t look like a minister or look old enough to be a minister, when it came right down to it, it didn’t matter to her. She needed someone to pray for her and whether that person was old or young, male or female, straight or gay, conservative or liberal, didn’t matter. What mattered was someone who noticed her as a person and took the time to linger and listen just for a minute.
In my seminary days, I would have carried her comment that I didn’t look like a minister around. I would have commented that there was no way people were going to see women, especially young women as ministers when there are programs that reiterate a stereotypical ministerial look of white, male over 45 who appears distinguished and dependable. I would have commented that these programs only reinforce the stereotype and make it harder for us young ministers and especially female ministers to get a foot in the door for a calling and profession we’ve sacrificed greatly to answer.
But more and more I am realizing there are so many minister who look the part, but aren’t there for God’s people, especially for those who find themselves on the outskirts of society. The people who have been told who they are is not what a Christian looks like and not what a volunteer in the church looks like that I know my ministry will continue in coffeeshops, in homeless shelter, and in youth Sunday School classes who have given up a summer day to see and to serve those in their community who are different than they are.
Thanks be to God that we don’t have to look a certain way in order to be a disciple, but instead we just need to answer the invitation Jesus extended: “Follow me.”