|MINISTRY OF PRESENCEWhat is Ministry of Presence?
"More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them."
- Henri Nouwen
In this passage from his writing, Henri Nouwen articulates the basic essence of what constitutes a ministry of presence. The Franciscan tradition offers some insightful wisdom on other ways we can make a ministry of presence part of our mission. An old legend states that St. Francis once said that his brother friars should, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” A ministry of presence is also about living the gospel as reflected in our actions and deeds--spreading the gospel message by giving of ourselves and our time.
Ours is a culture that places emphasis on ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. In fact, if we are not doing something, we are wasting time and resources--and perhaps we are also seen as being lazy. Mission turns our North American ideal of ‘doing’ on its head. When we enter other cultures, it is more important for the people to see us, get to know us, and to be known by us; this is the essence of a ministry of presence. Rather than coming with the intention of implementing program after program, missioners who engage in a ministry of presence spend time with and listening to the people, empowering them to believe in themselves, to identify solutions, and to value their own opinions.
FMS lay missioners spend much of their time on mission in ministries of presence--cultivating relationships and connections in their host communities that change them as well as the people they minister to. For many lay missioners, the ministry of presence is the most meaningful and challenging aspect of their life on mission. Click here to read more about the ministry of presence.