Saturday I was among some 200 women religious from the greater St. Louis area for an annual meeting. It’s one gathering I never want to miss because of the substance offered in presentations, the table interactions and the genial connecting with Sisters one doesn’t see often enough. Yesterday was no exception.
The morning agenda included our viewing a well-done DVD reflecting the varied ministries of Sisters in the region. I was quite conscious that of all the illustrated examples of ministry, the ministry of service to our own frail elders was absent. Why was this ministry, in which every congregation is engaged, not included? And what does its absence reveal?
I believe that it is our very dedication to ministry that has made us vulnerable to this blind spot. In reading and responding to the signs of the times, we Sisters can be found in countless places and circumstances meeting unmet needs. We have spent our lives, in this response, “going out on mission” to this service of others. But in the service to our own, we do not “go out” on mission. We even use the term “internal ministry” to distinguish this ministry from that of “going out” on mission.
There is not yet a consciousness that the same impelling call to serve by responding to the signs of the times is answered in this service to our own just as surely as it is when we respond to the signs of the times in service to others.
One anecdote bears this out, though I suspect it could be verified by a hundred other such examples. A Sister, appointed to an aspect of ministry to the elders in her congregation, asked, after a few years at the task to move to another ministry. In speaking with her provincial, the provincial asked whom the Sister might recommend to replace her. “Sister X might be quite acceptable in this ministry,” the Sister said. To which the provincial answered, “Oh, but we would have to take her out of active ministry.”
When we make a collective shift of consciousness to the reality that the ministry of service to our own is as integral a call to service as any others listed in our congregational directories or on our websites, we reveal that we have grasped the prophetic witness value of this ministry. We will read our Constitutions and Chapter Statement with new eyes and new insights. We will acknowledge the implications of the reality that we are a group of aging women living in an aging and ageist society. When this awareness is raised to a conscious reality and made operational, it will be possible to serve our Sisters (and the larger society) in the same creative, visionary and prophetic manner that has characterized our other ministries throughout our history.