Belaying—A Model For Ministry
Support Doesn't Mean that You"Climb the Mountain" for People
June 1, 1982
Ten of us, all beginners, were climbing White Gap Mountain in North Carolina. We were using ropes in a system called belaying. I served as belayer, which means that I controlled the safety rope for the person climbing the mountain. My job was to take up slack as each person climbed up to me and to hold the rope if he or she should fall on the way. It was very hard work.
One climber was somewhat overweight and fell several times. Each time, I was able to break her fall, but it caused great pain; the belaying rope cut into my waist with the tension of her weight on it. The whole procedure became for me a parable of my ministry.
I wasn't climbing the mountain, she was. I was there to support her, and I was thoroughly bound to her, but it was she who had to do the climbing. Each time she reached a difficult spot, I knew she would fall, and I also knew her fall would cause me pain. I was tempted at times to grab the rope and pull her over the difficult parts. It would have been a lot easier on me.
But I realized—thanks to the Holy Spirit—that if I pulled her over the difficult part each time, it would really have hurt her. She would have missed learning what it means to climb the mountain. Sure, I would have been her savior—but only for this time. There are other mountains she will have to climb, and I will not always be there to pull her over the rough spots. She had to do it mainly on her own. Well, after much pain and struggle, she made it to the top. When she reached me, she said, "I made it—I didn't think I'd ever get here."
That was a great moment for both of us; for me because I knew that she had climbed the mountain on her own. I had done a good job of belaying for her. I had encouraged her and kept her from getting hurt. That was my job. But she had climbed the mountain.
-as told to Kenneth McGuire, associate director, Paulist Institute for Religious Research