Service & Self
I noticed something this morning, whilst attempting to allow my body to “find what feels good” on the yoga mat (thank you Adriene Mishler). It’s been a year or so since I started a daily practice and you know what – I’ve actually developed a daily yoga practice. I’ve consistently struggled to hold down a committed pattern of prayer in this way, or even the personal study of Scripture. Yet slowly and gently this past year I’ve been invited to commit to a daily practice that is for my benefit so that in turn it can benefit others.
Although that’s not what I noticed, as telling as it may be in. In fact, I noticed something about myself, and perhaps many others may feel the same: up until my encounter with yoga I had no space that was for me, my wellbeing and my spirituality. The practical expressions of my faith were always for others, even prayer and time with Scripture – the latter rooted in an academic need to move churches away from exclusion and harm.
As a young person committed to an Evangelical expression of my faith my church life was about service: what club can I run, what aspect of the Sunday morning activities can I contribute, where can I show my commitment and spiritual cleanliness through these acts of service?
Growing older, this manifested itself, in part, in a call to ordained ministry – which has yet come to be. The acts of service I wholeheartedly gave myself to as a teenager and young adult evolved and demanded more and more of my time. I studied, I volunteered, I was trained and “formed” for ministry; church and Christian groups and gatherings could never be about me and God, they were always about God and others and how I could help facilitate that.
This became a useful practice of behaviour as I began to be more open about my sexuality – I could serve God and God’s Church by being part of the journey of inclusion. My acts of service evolved once more and in various guises over the years I’ve been the token LGBT+ voice in the room – someone to question, someone who offers challenge, someone who speaks from the margins on the significance of a Gospel with justice at the heart of it all.
These acts of service over the years, which I hope have been beneficial to some, have meant that church has been “work” for me dating back to my mid-teens. There have been moments of profound joy of course – it has been a labour of love for a lot of it. Yet as I stretched out in extended child’s pose this morning, I realised that church has almost exclusively been about other people and God and rarely about me and God.
Acts of service at their purest are beautiful and holy, but a life lived in service must have opportunities for refreshment too. You first have to have your cup filled, before you can pour from that to fill the cup of others.
I know I am not alone in this, particularly LGBT+ people who are so often called upon to be the educator, the mentor, the example, the scapegoat. Even in churches who are truly pushing the contemporary boundaries of what authentic inclusion and representation look like, LGBT+ can often find themselves serving at a cost to themselves.
Creating and nurturing LGBT+ spaces is essential to the flourishing of our faith, and networks like Open Table and Two:23 do this so brilliantly. OneBodyOneFaith is also continuing our work on Rhythm, as we begin to find ways to pray and be together even in distance. In the meantime, might I gently challenge you, as I found myself similarly challenged this morning, to find opportunity that is for yourself – where there are no demands of service or expectations of time and commitment, where you can be your full beautiful self and reconnect, restore, and recharge.
Luke Dowding, Executive Director