Ministers w/o borders?

The ruins of the Abbey on Holy Island.
The abbey ruins on Holy Island on the northeast coast of England. (Marrton Dormish)

Ever since I came across a petition started by the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, I’ve been following the ongoing legal battle over drug patent claims between Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis and the government of India. I recently learned the case has been deferred (again), this time until Sept. 11. (Read the “Front Page-worthy section of my March review for a summary of the significance of the case.)

Legal tactics and the availability of generic drugs, notwithstanding, the Novartis case and its connection to Doctors Without Borders set me off on a philosophical rabbit trail of sorts. I got to wondering, “Is there a group for ‘ministers without borders’?” On Wikipedia’s list of “Without Borders” groups, there is a British network of churches called Ministries Without Borders and an interfaith organization called Monks Without Borders, but not one for “Ministers” Without Borders.
There is a “Without Borders” organization for architects, astronomers, bankers, bikers, engineers, librarians, lawyers, pharmacists, reporters, teachers and scientists, so why not one for ministers or clergy or pastors or chaplains? I did find a Church Without Borders ministry, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

My understanding of the general philosophy behind “Without Borders” organizations is that they are not limited by traditional boundaries. Their efforts are locally embedded, but they tend to be embedded in places where people don’t necessarily have access to certain skills or professions. That’s why Engineers Without Borders helps build clean water wells in developing countries and why Doctors Without Borders works in troubled regions of Africa.

In the same way, most people in most communities don’t have easy access to a minister/chaplain/or member of the clergy unless they go to a church. According to several local pastors and a semi-confidential report I reviewed last year, about 10 percent of the people in my community attend church services.

Admittedly, many people may not want or need access to a minister, especially if in their minds all ministers do is preach or administer the sacraments or both. Some churches tend to elevate the importance of preaching while others tend to elevate the importance of the sacraments. Both help sustain communities of faith.

But what about people who don’t go to church? How do “ministers of the gospel” minister to people outside the four mortgaged or rented walls of their weekly or biweekly gathering places? I’d say, in general, when ministers (or members of congregations for that matter) meet the “unchurched,” they attempt to minister to them by getting them to come to church. I suppose that could be called an indirect sort of ministry. But it first requires that the unchurched on the outside become part of the churched on the inside.

If it’s true that how we spend our money reveals what we value most, then most churches value their facility and their staff and the utility of both for church participants.

Many churches do support missionaries in other countries. Some support area rescue missions or food banks. Thankfully, a few have “community pastors” whose job it is to coordinate outreach and make connections with local social service agencies.

In general though, where is the room in church budgets for “the other” who lives, struggles and survives just outside our walls? Why is the “community pastor” role in a church’s budget often the first to go when finances get tight? When people in the community-at-large need counsel, help meeting basic needs or making ends meet, or need someone to pray with them for a troubled family member, why do they have to cross the border into our church parking lot? Why should do they have to come to us?

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