Last Sunday, I joined the ministry.
Before heading to the church, as I do most Sundays, I turned on NPR and caught a portion of Christa Tippet’s show, On Being. She was having a conversation with Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More until its last show aired on August 1. I was so moved by what I heard that I went back to listen to it again and again. And, I joined Michel Martin’s “Ministry of Presence.”
Google “Ministry of Presence” and all sorts of links pop up. Michel Martin didn’t claim to be the first to ever utter the phrase and I’m sure won’t be the last. I must thank her for her words that I will share. They spoke to me, particularly at a time when A Woman’s Place is asking, “What would you do?”
I found myself able to draw clear parallels between the words I heard on Sunday morning and the work that I do every day. While the context of the Sunday morning broadcast may have been journalism, the lessons are applicable to all of our lives. In the part of my world that is A Woman’s Place, we are given the gift of validating the experiences of people who are often not heard from. To be blunt, many are cloaked in shame and hidden in shadows that we don’t always want to acknowledge because, to do so would be to acknowledge that such behavior happens in our community. It would be to acknowledge that we are not immune. We are given the gift of being able to connect people who might otherwise never meet, and in the gift of connection each of our worlds get larger and more colorful.
In the Ministry of Presence, we each have the ability to question and to listen. We can stretch ourselves beyond the single story that we may feel that we already know and don’t need to explore further. In the case of domestic violence work, choosing to believe that we know all victims – who they are, what they look like, what they are experiencing – is choosing to invalidate and ignore. Each horrifying and unacceptable moment of abuse and violence that is suffered is a moment that is important to see. The victimized are human beings who need to know that we see them, we know that they exist, that they are important, and that they are too valuable to be treated so callously. They need to know that we see them and accept our moral challenge to raise our voices and say that what they are experiencing is not acceptable.
It is not enough to stop there. While the horrifying and unacceptable moments of abuse and violence are important, how people survive, thrive, and flourish is also a vitally important part of the story. Pay attention beyond the assault or the fatality. Ask what happened next. In the Ministry of Presence, we insist on a diversity of perspectives and experiences that, should we so choose, expand each of our worlds far beyond survival and into flourishing. As we get to know others and we trust one another with our stories, we cannot help but to be changed.
Actively stepping into the Ministry of Presence can seem daunting. We must do so with grace for one another. We are human and imperfect. We will make mistakes. But maybe we’ll get a few things right and, in those occasions, change will be made.
What would you do? Answer the call. Ask, “What now?” Ask, “What’s next?” Ask who is missing and invite them in. And if your voice is what’s missing or you don’t see yourself, stand up and speak up and be heard.
Ifeoma U. Aduba