I posted this a few days ago on my own blog (MonkAtHeart), and have been asked to re-post it here – if you haven’t yet seen it, enjoy! Oh, and if you’d like to use any of it in worship this Sunday where you are, then please feel free, with my complete permission. Peace, Jason Cashing (Alaska ’01, Montana ’02)
“A Year of Service for a Lifetime of Change”
…or, ‘Why I am the way I am.’
I’m very partial to the Pentecost offering of the PC(USA).
I know that our denomination does all kinds of special offerings throughout the year, and as a minister I, too, share the sometimes dubious joy of attempting to promote/support all of them throughout the year, on top of our regular offerings, all in a rural church that is struggling financially (like so many others). I really do attempt to support them all, and space them out appropriately. But I’m very partial to the Pentecost offering.
And there is a very good reason for this, I believe: I would not be where I am now, who I am now, or have the story of faith that I currently have without this offering. At least, not without a program that this offering helps support.
I am speaking of none other than the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteers (YAV, for short) program – a national & international program of mission service for young adults of faith ages 19-30, which I spent two years of my formative life engaged with. And to be honest, I could talk/write/impose my thoughts for quite a lengthy time on this topic – what it is, why I feel it’s important, why I believe you should feel it’s important. But to be fair, I’ll simply list some of the highlights of what has formed me through this program, and let you simply absorb/reflect as you will. (I try to practice with others the mercy of God I have received.)
1) My spiritual journey is richer for this program, and that has a direct affect on my ministry where I am now. This is perhaps the most concrete and visible outcome of spending time between my undergraduate and graduate academic work. During these two brief years, I spent time in small, rural churches (very similar to where I am now), learning by experience (trial-and-error) what it is to live in relationship with the people that comprise these communities, walking with them through good and bad, sharing the exciting and mundane of life. But most of all, I learned to simply BE PRESENT with them. I used to think that ministry was all about finding the right combination of programming to meet the needs of the people, and that once you put those pieces of programming together correctly – viola! You had successful ministry! It took living through failure in this model (more than once) to learn that ministry has almost nothing to do with programming, and almost everything to do with relationship – sharing Christ with one another, walking with one another, recognizing that you impact others and are impacted by others. I would not realize this now had I not been a YAV.
It’s a little ironic that it took a mission program to make me realize that programs aren’t the end result of ministry.
2) I learned to live in community. This piggy-backs off of point #1 enough for me not to expand too much on it, but to simply say that Simon & Garfunkel were wrong: I am not a rock, or an island, but live & move & have my being in the intentional living together with other people, whether we share the same roof or not.
3) I learned to live simply. There are numerous resources out there on this topic, so forgive me for not going into a lot of detail about them here. If you’re interested, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble and search for the above topic. But suffice it to say: When you’re on a limited income, you learn what’s important – truly important – and what you can do without. I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost some of that understanding in my own life, and I oftentimes wonder if the Church particular has lost sight of that as well (each year around budget time, to be exact). Someday I’ll readdress that aspect of my life, and perhaps find a bit more courage to help this gathered body or worshipers to do the same. But the undercurrent of it all is that I have learned, and remember keenly, what is truly important, and what is adiaphora.
4) I learned acceptance. Along with point #1, this is perhaps the most important. I learned to accept who I am (which is constantly held in tension with striving for excellence in all I do – the two are not mutually exclusive), but more important to the ministry I am a part of now, I learned to accept others for who they are. Throughout my time as a YAV, and now as a YAVA(lumnus), I have experienced so much grace, forgiveness, and love that I no longer know how to walk in relationship with others without offering them the same. I don’t care where you’re from, what you’ve been through, why you’re here now or even if you’ll stay. I do care that you know, even if only for a moment or two, that God loves you more than you can fully comprehend. Having experienced this mystifying reality, I want you to know it as well, and I want to be one of the ones to help you realize it. God has accepted me, faults and gifts all, and so I accept you as well. What you do with that is up to you.
5) I learned that I don’t have all the answers, and this is a very good thing. Graduating college, and heading into the mission field, I saw myself as something of an expert, or at least an authority, in the ministry I’d be undertaking. Within six weeks I realized, hard, that this was not reality. I was clueless, still, despite my years of education and experience. I couldn’t have asked for a greater blessing moving forward. In my years as a YAV, I learned that the only One who does have answers or any semblance of control is God, and learned moreso to be OK with that – to be at peace when I didn’t have the foggiest, and to trust that it was God’s leading when I did have an idea of direction. It isn’t my place to provide the answers, to be the fixer of every situation – that isn’t ministry. It is my call to be in relationship with others, and let that simply be; God will be at work in, through, and despite me. This lesson ranks right up there with #1 above, in my mind.
In short, these are some of the aspects of ministry I learned as a YAV, a ministry which is directly supported (in part) through the annual, upcoming Peacemaking offering of Pentecost. If any of this sounds worth-while to you, please consider ways in which you might give to the Peacemaking offering, or support the YAV program, as well.