As the OneSpirit class of 2017 approaches Ordination, faculty member Annie Heppenstall reflects on how her own understanding of ministry unfolded.
Over the years, several ministries have opened up in my life, but not quite how I planned! Since an early age I had a sense that I wanted to be useful to others, to society, and explored Christian Ordination, spiritual healing and teaching, always with service as a sincere intention. All these threads continue to play a part in my journey, but are not definitive of my ‘ministry’.
It gradually became clear to me that Service, actually, was a difficult word for me. I realised that to truly serve, first we need to be free: free from exploitation and free from a desire for acclaim. I realised I had much to learn from a feminist perspective, about the cultural pressure on me and other women to be the ones who spend their time looking after everyone else’s needs before their own. And it also became clear that my motives for wanting to help others were complex.
But it took a profound descent into great brokenness, a shattering of my ego’s drive for status, to realise that it was myself who needed the ministry and the healing. It was myself who needed the wise spiritual companion who could love me into self-acceptance, supporting my move towards a point where I could surrender to the Divine, and allow transformation to become possible. This was a long and hard journey, but one rich in wisdom and kindness — often from unexpected sources — as I learned to receive the ministry of others, whatever their faith path or none, acting out of simple humanity; the point, I think, at which we are closest to our inherent divinity.
In time, my own sense of ministry began to reconfigure, but with a very different feel: more humble perhaps, less sought-for, more organically rooted in my own sense of freedom to ‘be’ and to be open to trust — the ‘beautiful flow,’ of Spirit.
These days, as well as being a One Spirit Faculty tutor, a variety of other ministry roles have come my way and ‘stuck’. I am an elected ‘Area Minister’ for an international contemplative Christian society; an initiated Druid; a Spiritual Accompanier and a Spiritual Care voluntary worker with NHS Mental Health.
I feel privileged to hold these ministries and welcome the opportunities for service within these roles. But actually, the real work is simply about being increasingly available and open to Spirit, moment by moment. Rather like learning to float, it’s an act of trust in something greater.
An event which sticks in my mind is of travelling on a bus, simultaneously with a passenger wearing rags and clearly drunk, who eventually collapsed on the floor. Several people tried to talk to him to get him back up, partly because he was blocking the door, but I found that it was me who he heard, because it was me who was comfortable getting down on the floor of the bus with him and seeing his world-view for a moment. We got off the bus together and he went to find his brother. That was ministry. I hadn’t planned it, it didn’t belong to a title, and it wasn’t my idea, it just happened because.
There’s a quote which has inspired me for a long time, about Krishna’s flute, which he is never without. Krishna whispers to his flute, ‘empty yourself and I will fill you …’ Ministry, to me, is about this self-emptying, for the divine music to flow.