A Liberal Arts Ministry
First period: Music Appreciation
The first time it happened was a few years ago, sometime around the third scene of the first act of Tosca, a Puccini opera. I didn’t recognize it at first, but what started as barely an inkling suddenly blossomed into a full-blown awareness that I had been missing a part of myself, the part of me that appreciates the art, dedication, beauty, and challenge that opera presents. A part of me that gets lost in the drama, costumes and romance of it all. A part of me that was nurtured by Mrs. Kelso and Mrs. Maxwell, my middle school and high school choir directors. A part of me that I allowed to fall to the wayside as I was focused on finishing college and moving onward with my calling, telling myself that I would get around to going to the opera again some day, once I had time.
Second Period: Science
The second time it happened was about a year later when I found myself reading a study on liberalism and intellect. Not just an article about a study, but an actual study. This time, it felt like a giant exhale, letting go of the frustration I had felt while having to read so many less-challenging works in my ministry training. All of the sudden, I was back in the familiar territory of details and statistics and sociological minutiae that I hadn’t seen in a few years.* The challenge of reading the study was a welcome friend, and I felt at ease again. I got to swim around in science, immersed in the facts and precise nature of it all until my fingers were pruny I reconnected with a part of me that had become dormant. A part of me that was nurtured by Dr. O’Brien and Dr. Gross. A part of me that wasn’t deemed “relevant” to my current endeavor of preparing for ministry.
Third Period: AP English
The third time was this past Saturday when I accompanied my sister to a showing of the National Theatre’s production of Coriolanus, a Shakespearean play that I hadn’t been familiar with prior to the showing. The excitement was multifaceted: the superficial excitement of seeing some of my favorite actors on the screen (read: Tom Hiddleston is a beautiful genius and Mark Gatiss is brilliant), getting to see one of the theaters I visited when I was in London, and the deeper, more satisfying excitement of following the language, marveling at the monologues and becoming engrossed in the tragic misfortunes of Caius Martius Coriolanus. All of the sudden, there it was again, the part of me that was moved by the passion of the spoken word, a part of me that ached for the complexity that pop culture lacks. A part of me that was neglected because I didn’t have time to devote to it.
Fourth Period: Psychology
Each of these parts of me, along with many others, are the result of a shift in the American/Western education system in the last few generations towards a more “well-rounded,” liberal arts education that goes beyond the three Rs and introduces kids to elements they may never experienced. Without it, I wouldn’t know that I love opera or Shakespeare, nor would I have the ability to make sense of scientific journal articles. It’s an education that has instilled in me and my peers the belief that there is more to life than any one thing. We can be interested in art and science and cooking and whatever else may be out there.
Fifth Period: 20th Century History
As I’ve mentioned before, my denomination puts a lot of emphasis on “doing,” and there are some (particularly in my parents’ babyboomer generation) who hold fast to the tenet that every possible moment should be devoted to ministry, that if it is not “eternally beneficial,” it is not necessary. I understand their passion. I understand the urgency they feel for the ministry. I understand that because their education was markedly different from my own, they may not have the same perspective.
But with all the understanding and respect I can muster, I think they’re wrong.
Sixth Period: Spent in the Dean’s Office for Perceived Deviance
I know that I’m going to get grief for saying so, but I think a singular focus in life and ministry is dangerous. It causes burn-out, skews priorities, ruins relationships, and makes us less effective ministers. Whenever life has been overwhelmed by one dimension or another, I become an unhappier, more anxious person. When I’ve spent seemingly every minute working and thinking about work, my vision becomes narrower and less fruitful.
The American Dream, it has been said, is to find something that you love, find a way to make money on it, and keep doing it until you can’t make anymore money. I think that the same thing can be expected of Ministers. We are told to take the hobbies, interests, and passion that we have and turn those into ministry. Teach those hobbies to someone else, use your passion to enhance the services. Keep going at whatever it is you love until it’s all about work. I’m certainly not arguing that our passions can’t be used in ministry, but we need to understand that those passions and hobbies are part of what makes us individuals. Sometimes, they are the respite but we need in order to feel balanced and capable of leading the next day.
Seventh Period: Social Studies
In addition to maintaining our own sanity, our liberal arts lives are important because the mirror the liberal arts live of the people in our congregation. Our congregation members aren’t just sitting in our pews on Sunday. They are also T ball moms, union workers, baseball fans, caregivers, and an endless list of diverse interests and hobbies. The more diverse our activities are, the more we can relate to the people in our congregation. There may come a time when, if your congregation is like mine, you may be the only one in the hospital room who can explain what the doctor said to the family in a way that they will understand it. All of the sudden, biology 101 doesn’t seem like such a wasted class. All of the sudden, a well rounded experience and education becomes absolutely necessary to your ministry.
Eighth Period: Study Hall
Our homework then as ministers is to take time and consider what parts of ourselves have been missing or under nourished. What hobbies have you been ignoring because you just don’t have time? What interests have been set aside because they do not seem to be as important as the ministry right in front of you? What time have you taken for yourself to explore and enjoy new things? Now that you have thought about them, what are you going to do about it?
You owe it to yourself to be a well rounded person, with a wide range of things to enjoy and offer. You owe it to the people you serve, because a content, joyful minister is what they are hungry for.
*My bachelor’s is in sociology.