Editor’s note: Former DC Service Corps volunteer Chase Medelberg shares what he learned about the ministry of presence while serving at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School last year.
What a year it was at FMS.
I still remember walking up the mountain of steps in front of Casa San Salvador and being greeted by Amanda Saunders. I remember sitting around the dinner table that first night and wondering to myself where all the other men in the community were. (There weren’t any more–my community consisted of twelve women). Now I am about one month out from my year of service at FMS, and I am so thankful for my time in Washington DC.
At FMS, we talk about ministry of presence a lot. It is one of the key parts to our organization’s ministry, and it was one of the things I was most excited to engage in during my year of service. At its core, it means focusing more on being with the people you are working with rather than just getting things done.
I have worked and volunteered with marginalized communities in the past and had experience with ministry of presence to a small extent. Once, in college, I was speaking to a homeless man and he remarked that he could not remember the last time someone said his name and that he was so happy we were talking to him.
From experiences like this, my mindset going into Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School was that impact and change would happen almost immediately. To say that I was incorrect would be the understatement of the century. First off, learning 380 kids’ names is a herculean task; I don’t think it was until a good three months in that I felt like I knew most of the kids’ names. Second, I was just another new face to kids who were generally uninterested in me. To develop a relationship with the students took time and trust. It required me to sign up and volunteer for nearly every school activity that I could. It required me to awkwardly listen to teens complain about the boy who would not notice them. Ministry of presence is not always pretty or ideal, but the payoff is unquantifiable.
I am still shocked at how much the ministry of presence component impacted me. The students taught me so much about life and what overcoming adversity looks like. They provided me a place where I was excited to go to work each and every day. They challenged me to be a better person and made me realize how truly blessed I am. Their presence around me was truly one of the greatest gifts God could have given me.
I will never forget complaining to a student about how tired I was. He responded that he was tired as well, because waking up at 4 was really starting to take its toll on him. (He had a long commute to school and worked on the weekend.) In that moment, I remember thinking to myself that my problems were microscopic compared to these kids, and that I would never be able to do what they do. I loved it when the freshmen girls made fun of me because they made more money than my volunteer stipend. I loved it when the junior boys made fun of me for–apparently–having a fancy sweater vest. I loved playing basketball with the seniors on Thursdays.
The students were not the only group that impacted me at DBCR. The staff had a huge impact on my year as well. One of my coworkers did my job the prior school year and basically took me under his wing, always making sure I was okay. My boss was a champion of the human race and was incredibly supportive during my year of service. Br. Tom, SJ, was the kind of mentor for me that I wanted to be for my students. He imparted so much wisdom on me and helped me with my spiritual life. This is a guy who–when I told him that I wanted to have Eucharistic Adoration at the Casa–went and got my community our very own monstrance! Two highlights of the year were our many lunch trips and hearing him horribly sing Neil Diamond.
I could go on and on about how awesome all of my coworkers are, and I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am for all of their support, but the point I want to make is that they were there for me. If I needed to call on them, they would be there to help. While I walked alongside the students of DBCR, there was a group that was doing the exact same thing for me. The staff at DBCR and FMS were amazing to me and transformed me as a person by being present and forming meaningful relationships with me. At FMS I learned about the power of ministry of presence and saw it so wonderfully exemplified by the staff and students at DBCR, I want to bring it forward and practice it through all of what I do in the future.
Reflection question: When have you gone into an experience expecting to give and found that you received even more in return?