While I’m in line at the visitors’ window of our county jail, I’m invariably asked by another collared personage what church I serve. My most honest answer is “The Little Converted Crack-House,” which is how we jokingly refer to our A.A. home group. (Before I joined the Recovery Community, I actually assumed this bustling little building was a biker-bar…) Our “crack-house” is, in fact, the place where God & I got to know each other, and the place where (more than any church I’ve ever attended) I am regularly surrounded by other people who have personal, daily connections with the Big Guy. This is where my ministry (with or without clerical collar)–where every Recovering alcoholic’s ministering–takes place. Our own lives depend on it. That’s rather a convoluted answer, though, so when I was first asked about church affiliation, I just mumbled that mine is a “street ministry,” and left it at that.
As far as ordination, my affiliation is with a non-denominational church. (Not non-denominational-Christian, but entirely non-denominational–“In service to God and my fellows,” end of story.) Neither the Ordination nor the Minister ID-card in my wallet nor the clerical collar in themselves make me magically useful–it’s my own experiences (in particular, my life as a Recovering drunk) that enable me to be of service to my fellows. Ordination in my case simply means I’m “recognized by the state” in this capacity, and it opens doors.
It allows me to take those “clergy visits” into the jail. (My husband scans the online log of arrests for me every morning to see if there’s any familiar face who might need a visit. “But few of any sort, and none of name,” he reported this morning, quoting from Much Ado About Nothing…) Happily, these days I also get to walk back OUT of the jail.
Our local women’s shelter, where I volunteered during my five months of joblessness this year, wouldn’t allow A.A. meetings to come in to their facility–although the majority of the ladies in residence are in Recovery, many of them court-ordered to attend a 12-step program, and the shelter’s curfew didn’t allow them to get to outside meetings–because the Program isn’t specifically Christian. But when I showed up in clergy collar to plead the case for an on-site meeting, they suddenly acquiesced. (Hoping God will forgive that bit of manipulation on my part…)
As a fun bonus, I’ve been asked to marry several friends. (To perform the marriages, I mean. I’ve already married my Best Friend–who, by the way, proposed to me by writing the Question on a dollar bill and putting it in the collection basket while I was chairing an A.A. Meeting…) I’ll freely admit that this role has helped me grow and stretch my own comfort-boundaries; I’m much less self-conscious now when someone asks me to pray with them, for example. And for that matter, people seem less self-conscious making that kind of request of me now, so I suppose the collar works in all directions.
“Street Ministry” seems like a pretentious name for the things I do, and I was somewhat embarrassed by my own answer in the jail’s waiting-room. But here’s the break-down: In my previous professional life, I would be greeted by name in the halls of the State Capitol. Now I’m greeted by name in the alley behind the Rescue Mission, where I share a smoke with the rumpled gents after helping my hubby serve dinner at his volunteer-job. Guess which one of those is more soul-satisfying?
We had to move this summer when our house went into foreclosure, and I was asked to do a hospice call shortly thereafter. I knew I had seen the white tab of my clergy collar amid the craziness of unpacking and reorganizing, and remembered putting it “somewhere logical” where I’d naturally look for it when I needed it–but could not find the d@*n thing! After an extensive hunt, I finally turned it up–in my drawer of sports bras. Can’t imagine what possessed me to “file” it there… “Spiritual support”? ;)