The God of the “Yes, and”: A Reflection on the Ministry of the Steps

BY KAREN SARGENT

I hear that in improv and drama classes a well-loved exercise and general rule of thumb is to take a scenario and build off of it with the phrase “Yes, and.” Yes, what the person in the group has created is true, and there is something more to be added. What has come out of the other person’s brain is never wrong; it can only be added to and grown into something new and different.

I love that the main idea behind this exercise is that there is always something more to be created. American society thrives off of the “Scarcity Myth,” which states that if more resources are given – to immigrants, to refugees, to the poor, the homeless, the marginalized - there won’t be enough for the “rest of us.” It seems to me that the idea that there is always enough to go around and that there is more to be created is a radical act of resistance in a society that consistently says “no.”

I think that God exists in the creativity and space of the response “Yes, and.”

Although it’s in the name, it bears repeating that the steps outside the Cathedral are the centerpiece of the Ministry of the Steps. It is here that multiple groups intersect: those who work in local business, Bostonians who have lived in the neighborhood for decades, tourists just passing through for a brief period of time, and people who are homeless who consider the Common their home. The Ministry provides activities where all of these vastly different groups of people can connect with each other for a brief period of time and discover that maybe – just maybe – they might have more in common than they think.

When I came to the Cathedral this summer to coordinate the Ministry of the Steps programming, the first two weeks were a rush of coordinating programs and organizations that my wonderful predecessor had begun to put into place. I was also looking for others who might be interested in volunteering their time or talent on the steps. Beyond those initial steps, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Here is what I am learning: Our baptismal covenant asks if we will “Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” and if we will “Strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

We respond that we will, with God’s help.

Yes, we will – and.

And then we dive into our own discomfort of the unknown. And then we stand up and face a world that says that there is never enough of anything to go around. And then we find a relentless optimism that says that relationships can and should be created through differences.

This type of commitment to the “yes, and” is intentionally created. It is a response to our Baptismal Covenant to find where the Church is separated from the people and to break down those walls so that all might participate in the universal Church – Church with a capital C. Capital C Church isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty and it exists in the spaces that are overlooked by the rest of society. The capital C Church is one that pushes the boundaries of what Church can be and there is no fear in bringing God outside four walls because it is known that God exists in the wilderness and in burning bushes just as much as God exists in tabernacles.

This is why I consider the Ministry of the Steps to be an extension of my faith and my commitment to the Baptismal Covenant. God doesn’t deserve to be only contained within a building: God deserves to be lived and experienced out in the beauty of creation, from forests to villages to concrete jungles. There is something so beautiful about taking the Church outside to the people because it responds with an overwhelming yes, and instead of resigning itself to the idea that building relationships with everyone is impossible or that only certain people deserve to have access to the love of God.

There has been much interest in how churches around the Diocese can do something similar. The answer is twofold: see what the needs of a community might be and then go outside. Churches do not have to exist within a vacuum; there are so many opportunities for community engagement. The best thing about this type of Ministry is that it is shocking in its simplicity and is also an incredible way to tap into the (maybe hidden!) talents of communities both inside and outside of a congregation. Are there people within your church community that like to play games? Play checkers, chess, cornhole, or foursquare outside. Are there people who like crafts? Do a simple art project with beads or construction paper. Do you have a Green Stewardship committee? Maybe they would like to teach the community about sustainable ways to grow food in an indoor or outdoor garden. Reach out to people within the larger external community and see what they might want to bring to the table. Offer space to listen, grieve, rejoice, pray, laugh, create, or have a moment of peace and quiet – and then see what happens.

The beautiful thing about the relationship between a capital C Church and a community is that it is like two people discovering - or rediscovering – a relationship with one another. All one has to do is approach the other with curiosity and an openness of heart and something beautiful and surprising can blossom. There are people within and outside of a Church wanting to share their talents and their passions and people who are in need of a little bit of respite on the receiving end. In my opinion, there is really nothing that can be lost from starting a ministry like this.

It just might be that it is then we realize that God exists in the cracks of the unknown and that there is always enough because God is a God of the yes, and.