Ministry in Context

Walk slowly and never look busy

By Steve Arnold

When I look busy I communicate that I don’t have time for a person. When I look busy I put up walls and barriers rather than communicate a sense of welcome.I recently saw a sign that said, “People who are always in a hurry work out of a sense of oppression rather than a sense of call.” This is a strong statement, and as I ponder the statement I believe it to be true.

I have been in diaconal ministry for 42 years, and for 25 of those years I was tasked with preparing women and men to serve Lutheran congregations in diaconal roles. Over the years I have been very busy, and for way too many years I reveled in that. I was one of those church workers that seemed to get a high when people commented about how hard I was working. There was no one to confront me, and when our professional groups would meet I, too, would engage in the “I can’t believe how busy I am” conversation.

I have only one response: “I repent!”

I have come to realize that hospitality is at the heart of ministry.  In order to proclaim, one must be able to connect in ways that make people feel welcomed. To be rushing around busy, busy, busy shuts down ministry.

I currently serve as a chaplain to 300+ residents of a facility that includes independent living, assisted living, memory care, transitional care and long-term care. Bottom line: I am busy. 

However, my new plan is to never look busy. If I look busy people don’t feel free to engage with me. When I look busy I communicate that I don’t have time for a person. When I look busy I put up walls and barriers rather than communicate a sense of welcome.

On occasion I now serve as clinical coordinator for chaplains in training through Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). These interns work with me 16 hours per week. The first few days I spend a great deal of time with them and one of the first things I have them practice is how not to look busy. We practice walking slowly through the facility and we engage in focused conversation with each other and with residents. My continual statement to them is, “walk slowly and never look busy.”

This principle of “walk slowly and never look busy” is a key part of learning hospitality. Regardless of where one serves in ministry it is important to be fully present to the moment. In order to be hospitable one needs to learn how to slow it down. 

Prayer and breathing are a central part of slowing down, but first one must see the need for slowing down and then want to slow down. God grants a pace that works.

Dr. Steve Arnold is Chaplain, Spiritual Director and Director of Pivot Point Ministries at St. Anthony Senior Living Center in Minneapolis, Minn.


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