By Janet Keeney
The Scriptures tell us that we all have ministries. My definition of ministry is service or giving attention to an area of need in the Church. 1 Cor 12:27-31.
How does a woman discover the ministry God has given her? Is it through prayer, through expanding talents and interests, through doing what your priest asks you to help him accomplish, through doing everything others in the Church ask you to accomplish? It can get confusing, can’t it? It can cause one to do nothing and feel discouraged, or do everything and feel “burned out.”
I was one of those women who always used to be telling God how much I was doing for Him. One day, tired and discouraged, I heard God say to me, “I love you for who you are, not for what you do.” This gave the word “ministry” a new meaning for me.
An Evolving Lay Ministry
When my children were young, they truly were a full time job. I believe that the countless hours of preschool years that I spent with my four children, gave them a sense of love, stability and knowledge of God’s faithfulness that has brought them through many temptations in the world. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 This daily synergy within my home life, centered around my husband and children, can also extend as a lay ministry of example to the younger women of the church.
Orthodox women have been great defenders of the faith as seen in the lives of the Saints and their ever present testimony. Orthodox women of today are intricately linked to these saintly women who preceded us. We can each carry on the ministry that they began by using our gifts of hospitality, singing, teaching the children, feeding the poor, being there to listen and to guide those who are searching. Small ministries that I began to be involved in at the parish included hosting the coffee hour, baking the Communion bread, and teaching church school.
From my experience I have come to understand the ministry of married women in the Church through the life of St. Gorgonia (Feb. 23), a married woman with four children. (Marriage As A Path To Holiness, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, So. Canaan, PA, 1994, pp. 142-151.) St. Gorgonia was not separated from God by her marriage. Although she had a husband as her head, she was not separated from her first head, Christ. She rather served in the world according to the human dictates and to the extent God allowed, while dedicating herself entirely to Him.
St. Gorgonia’s example taught me these priorities: God first, my husband second, family third, then the Church, and finally the world. Also everything in moderation helps to maintain a good balance. I must constantly remember to not be so heavenly bound that I am no earthly good.
Learning The Faith Through Teaching Children
As a convert, I began my lay ministry in Orthodoxy by teaching kindergarten in the Church School. I would learn the lesson, then teach the young children and this is how I came to fully know and embrace Orthodox Christianity. Its been seven years now since our whole family, three daughters and our son, even our son-in-law, entered the Orthodox Christian faith. We started seeing many firsts: feast days, baptisms, our daughter’s Orthodox wedding and it was all so glorious, we were like little children, enthralled. My greatest joy was that we all went to church as a family, even our teenager and college student. This indeed was a great miracle.
Helping New Converts In The Parish
As Orthodox women of today, one of the greatest challenges we face regarding our ministry is to be Orthodox Christians first before our own ethnic concerns, and to be open to the new convert. We need to allow a convert to heal and grow, free from judgment and expectations. What an opportunity for ministry there is in just taking the time to nurture and support new converts in their transition to Orthodoxy. Women’s leadership and participation in prayer groups and Bible studies can also help to address this challenge. God is causing a great wonder to take place in this land, and bringing many, such as our family, to the Holy Orthodox Faith.
From a first-hand perspective, my husband and I are presently seeing a great need for a direct effort of spending time with converts. So many times a convert believes that he/she has made a big mistake by entering what seems to be an ethnic arena. We try to be there to tell them “we understand” when they become confused and discouraged. We had no one to do this for us.
When we joined the Orthodox Church, people asked us almost weekly why we were attending the church since we were neither Greek nor Russian. For the first time in our lives, we began studying our family tree to see if we possibly had any Eastern background. For a long time we were not included in parishioners’ social eventsweddings, showers, baptisms. We did have the good fortune to be invited to spend Pascha with a family. It was great in that we had no tradition for this, nor any family near by.
God may have allowed us to experience the hurts so that we can be more sensitive to the feelings a new convert can have. We, with prayer, have been filling this need informally by spending time with the new members. We have weekend dinners with the families and become friends.
Converts can be a strength to a parish since their faith is at a high point when they make the decision to search for a more spiritual life. Most converts are not “church shoppers.” They have had a sincere encounter with the Lord and want to bring others to Him. Caring parish members, remembering “the seeds that fall on the ground” from the Lord’s parable, can easily help the roots of the converts to grow deeper by providing a soil of love and concern.
A ministry to new converts has been one that I’ve especially felt called to. To you women who have not come to fully comprehend what your ministry is, keep seeking God’s wisdom. God bless you in your journey. I hope this article helps you to understand that you are probably involved in ministry already.
Questions For Discussion:
What are the positive attributes of being a mother and homemaker full time? Are there drawbacks?
If one cannot be a full time homemaker and has a family, what helpful suggestions make for the best balance between home, the family and work?
Are there ministries that women perform better than men? men better than women?
How does a God-centered life help one in whatever ministry is being undertaken?
Has there been a ministry to new converts in your parish? What has helped them to feel a part of the parish family? What other things might be done to make them feel more welcome?
Do you feel that converts enrich the parish family? In what ways? What problems, if any, do they pose that need to be overcome within the parish family?
Janet Keeney is a member of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Kansas City and director of a Before and After School Care Program for the local YMCA in Kansas City, Kansas.