success stories

Posted February 24, 2003

The Basics of Collaboration in Ministry

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Agatha Christi was once asked how it felt to be married to a biblical archeologist. She replied, ``The older you get the more interesting you become to him.'' I heard that one at a seminar on collaboration in ministry held in Washington at the Washington Theological Union.

The presenters, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y., Trinitarian Brother Loughlan Sofield and Sister Carroll Juliano of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, repeatedly stressed that a major principle behind collaboration is creating communion by getting to know each other more fully.

Exploring this principle, the presenters challenged participants to ask themselves: ``Do I truly value and respect the gifts of others? Do I understand how wrong language distances us from one another? Do I know the No. 1 enemy of collaboration and its greatest ally?''

The participants examined the need for respect and its meaning in collaborative relationships. Respect calls for a sense of awe at that which is unique and inspiring in another. Respect also cautions us to give a person reverential space -- never to assume a superior attitude that belittles and hems in another person.

That means humility must be the handmaid of collaboration, enabling the gifts of another to blossom.

Pondering all this, the maxim that familiarity breeds contempt came to mind. Overfamiliarity is one reason respect is difficult to practice. How often has collaboration broken down in families because a husband or wife took each other for granted and stopped looking for that special awesome something in the other?

The symposium presenters emphasized the enormous effort it takes to respect another's gifts by pointing out how easy it is to label people. When we label others, we box them in so that we ourselves no longer can see the gifts they possess.

Among labels that hamper collaboration in ministry are the terms ``clerical'' for priests and ``laity'' for those who are not priests. Use of these labels can create compartmentalization, and, as Bishop Clark pointed out, weaken the communion needed for effective collaboration. Bishop Clark called for a new collaboration, suggesting that one practical way to create it is by inviting priests, deacons and lay people to come together for study days.

When the question of collaboration's No. 1 enemy arose, low self-esteem headed the list of possible answers. When we don't respect ourselves, it is more difficult to respect others. If we don't feel we have gifts, we won't see them in others.

To put it another way, the better our self-understanding, the better we can understand others. An often-forgotten principle is that ministry primarily is meant to improve spirituality to serve the goal of holiness. This implies that those in ministry need to practice what they preach by coming together frequently to pray and to participate together in the Eucharist.

What a different world this would be if only we thanked God every day for the gifts we have received. In recognizing God's love for us and the respect God shows for us, our self-understanding and self-respect would be renewed, enabling us in turn to respect others. With this as a basis, I believe we would begin to find that collaboration comes quite naturally.