As I draw closer to the end of my sabbatical (ongoing formation) programme and having just celebrated my priestly anniversary a week ago (11th May), I feel drawn to share the following vital lessons and fruit of my reflections here.
My appointment to take care of Shauri Moyo Parish (Nairobi, Kenya) was like a still birth. I was just over a year in ordination and knew very little. Any priest with a passion for pastoring will seek help. That is what I told myself. I realized from the very beginning that a priest only serves and gets his identity from the team of fellow priests. Deanery clergy meetings, diocesan meetings and seminars became important from the beginning. So were our own Mill Hill annual assemblies, cluster meetings and social evenings without forgetting the process meetings we had twice in a year. I learned a great deal from them.
I also learned that as a priest, I am at the service of the parish and not a faction. I happened to be a Kenyan serving in Kenya. At the parish we had people from my home area and other parts of Kenya. We had a good number of Christians from Tanzania and a few from other countries. The congregation was made up of children, young people and adults. Some few well-off and the majority living in abject poverty. The list can be endless. All these are particular groupings that need a universal shepherd. Working with one at the expense of another would be a real disaster.
With time I also had to learn the importance of working with different ministries. The Catechetical, Liturgy, Eucharistic ministers, Lectors, Justice and peace, Children’s desk etc. At first I had to be personally present in many of these areas. Later on I learned to make the ministries strong and independent. These various ministries proved to be the pillars of parish life. They kept things moving smoothly to my delight as well. They became handy in making sure the spiritual life of parishioners was nourished. Our parish being a small area, we could easily be in touch with almost every Christian and even ‘those outside our faith.’
Where there is a will there is a way. I realized I had to mobilize all my determination, imagination and creativity since a pastor needs skills that are unfortunately not infused at ordination. These skills one gets through deliberate intention, education, reflection and practice. Like Solomon, all pastors should continually pray for wisdom from God. I needed skills in pastoral work and in administration. Skills in communication too, where some general norms are to be broken down to particular situations and in understandable language. My experience taught me that pastoral work would be a little easier than administration especially in this modern world. That meant getting people to help in the different aspects of administration work.
I lastly learned to be a ‘perceiver.’ That means someone with a sense of the whole. I had to get the whole picture before doing anything. This helps in managing, governing and guiding the parish as a community and not as parts. Generally everyone in a parish would want to feel important. Each group knows it is more special and important than all the others. As a minister I had to come in and help all groups work together and feel equally important to uphold the oneness and unity of the parish. It is a delicate act but very crucial for effective ministry.
Just to sum it all up. My appointment in this ministry became a beginning of another formation journey. I started a great spiritual adventure. A journey of growth and development. I was challenged to integrate what I am and what I do as a priest. I had to be a ‘father’ in the true sense of the word. As I celebrate this 8th anniversary, I am grateful to God and many other people that I can’t name all. I hope I have internalized and lived the words of Mother Teresa, “God calls us to fidelity and not results’ or put in other words, to be faithful and not successful. Every day is a day of learning and growth.
Fr. Francis Makuba mhm