By Patrick Schmadeke
In my Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame, we spend each of the three years in a different ministerial field placement. This creates space for us to connect classroom material to the practical, everyday lives of the people to whom we are ministering.
The first-year field placement theme is a ministry of presence. For my placement, I spent Friday mornings for the past year at LOGAN Center in South Bend, Ind. — a day center that provides programs and services for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Going into the year, I was anxious about setting aside several hours a week for this program requirement. It would be different than my task-based, full-time academic schedule to which I’d grown accustomed. The ministry of presence is not about checking off a to-do list; it’s about being present to people.
It didn’t take long to get over my nervousness. The urgency of a room full of people constructing papier-mâché animals for an upcoming art sale swept me into a current of excitement. The contentment created by communal activity, as it turns out, is sort of irresistible. What is special about LOGAN is that it is the kind of place where community flourishes. The individual and communal relationships at LOGAN are the lifeblood to the vibrant spirit of friendship and love that permeate its identity. Reflecting on the time I’ve spent at LOGAN over the past year, it occurs to me that there are at least three ways that it is a model for community.
One of these ways was demonstrated to me when I was routed by a client in a word search puzzle race. Building community includes space for camaraderie to take root through play. This form of community building happens at LOGAN all the time — some enjoy word search puzzles, others prefer coloring and still others like to go bowling. Celebration is also an important form of play at LOGAN. Gathering as a community for birthdays and holidays are occasions for community to grow and be sustained.
LOGAN is also a model for community in the way the clients work together. The aforementioned papier-mâché blurred the line between work and play, but the resulting product to be sold at the art sale signified a job well done. This is the reward of efforts often lasting several weeks that require meticulous attention to detail. Other forms of work at LOGAN involve the packaging and assembly of goods sold by companies around the country. This particular work helps clients learn employment skills. Both kinds of work benefit the dignity of the individuals involved and promote collaborative skills.
Work and play are skills that we Americans are generally good at. The shallow though oft-cited mantra that we “work for the weekend” signals the relationship between the common notions of work and play. The saying “work hard, play hard” signals the predominance of these values in society. However, there is something more to community than work and play. The clients at LOGAN embody a capacity for inclusivity. It is in this way that LOGAN is a quiet, steady model that gently invites us to imitate their witness to love in the world.
At the beginning of the year I wondered how I would fit into the community at LOGAN. In hindsight, I see that any apprehension or nerves about gelling with the community were unwarranted. LOGAN is a community with porous boundaries. For this to be achieved the clients live out a vulnerability that is a hallmark of the welcoming posture that clients convey.
Witnessing their capacity for inclusivity over the past year begs several questions we must ask of ourselves and our communities. Who is at the margins of our community and how do we build a bridge of inclusivity that allows our community to grow? More than anything, this is about our operative posturing towards others. To imitate this love we first must experience it in our neighbor and the person of Jesus Christ.
(Editor’s note: Patrick Schmadeke is a graduate of St. Ambrose University (‘13) and a student in the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame. His column offers reflections on his coursework, engaging with the richness of the Catholic tradition and its relevance to the world today.)