I was recently sent a copy of Emma Percy’s book, What Clergy Do. I did not get along with her premise of “Motherhood as a metaphor for ministry”. But, it made me think a lot. If that is not a model of ministry I can get along with, then what is?
This is the only way I can articulate what I believe ordained ministry and leadership to be about – the ministry of the Eighteenth Camel.
There is the ancient story of a man who left his 17 camels to his 3 sons.
The instructions were to divide them according to age. The eldest son was to have half of the camels, the middle son a third of them, and the youngest son a ninth. This is an impossible sum.
Until another man came along. He asked them what their trouble was, and they explained. Wait there, he said, and soon returned with his own camel. Now there were 18 camels and the maths worked out.
Half of 18 = 9. So he gave the eldest son 9 camels 1/3rd of 18 = 6. So he gave the middle son 6 camels 1/9th of 18 = 2. So he gave the youngest son 2 camels.
And the man’s camel was still left at the end.
He lent them his camel, which enabled them to do what they still needed to do, yet when that task was done, the loaned camel was free to go. It was a part of the work, an important part, but not left tied up in it. It didn’t become one of the son’s camels, but without it, the sum was impossible.
What seemed impossible was possible with the addition of one extra camel – and at the end that camel was still left over to be used by its own owner.
Ministers are there to be a part of, to facilitate, to help the work of the church. But the work itself has to be that of the church, the community that will be there long after the minister has moved on. No other way is sustainable. They are valuable, but not indispensable; useful but not the person on which everything hangs; a part of but only for a time, the work of God goes on without and beyond them.
Well, it makes sense to me anyway!