A delightful story recounted in The Holy Longing by Ron Rolheiser tells of a 4-year-old girl who feared spooks and monsters in the dark of her room. One night, she ran to her parents’ bed, and her mother calmed her down. As she led her daughter back to her room, she said: “‘You needn’t be afraid, you are not alone here. God is in the room with you.’ The child replied: ‘I know that God is here, but I need someone in this room who has some skin!’”
As the Regional Director of IVC-St. Louis, I see God with “some skin” in the work of our volunteers. As our service year progresses, they have moved from the thrill of a new start to the slow and sometimes challenging task of serving people whose needs can be overwhelming. At our monthly meetings, several volunteers admit to feelings of powerlessness or frustration at the prospects of those they serve. “How can our small efforts make much of an impact?” they ask, the weight of the question hanging in the air.
Ministry is often thought of in terms of doing acts of service. I think our volunteers have come to see that simply being with their clients is service, too. While they may not have all the solutions to their clients’ problems (at least in the short term), the relationships they’re building in their weekly service open everyone involved to deeper mutual understanding. In this way, their presence is, in effect, God with some skin. As Charles Winters, founder of the Loyola Institute for Ministry at Loyola University New Orleans, once wrote: “In this sense there is a kind of passivity at the heart of every ministerial encounter. We might express this passive aspect of ministry by saying that it’s not so much what we say as what we do, and it’s not so much what we do as who we are that matters.”
Our faith assures us that God is present, like the mother comforting her child. We, like the little girl, want to know for sure. Our volunteers are at turns the mother and the child: comforting in their presence, yet longing for quick solutions. As our year goes on, we more deeply understand that it is in relationship with others where the answers will emerge, the fears will be calmed, and God’s presence will be felt with some skin.
Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, the former IVC – St. Louis regional director, has served in church ministry for over 20 years on the national, regional and local levels in communications, adult spirituality, family life and retreat direction.