Our founding story - Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha - our founding story

The name of our charity is 'The Society of Mary and Martha' but these days we are known simply as 'Sheldon' - the name of the home where we live.

We named the charity after, and continue today to take our inspiration from, the story in Luke 10v38-42 when Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. Bethany means 'poor house' and the village may have been a marginalised place. Jesus spent a lot of time here during the last weeks of his earthly ministry and experienced, not poverty, but the warmth, love and hospitality of friends in their home.

Far from being a state of blissful balance between Martha's activism and Mary's contemplation, ministry in the real world is more like a daily tug-of-war or even wrestling match between the apparent opposites. The seemingly endless attention to the needs of others competes with the need to be still and reflective, but in both these activities ministers are offering themselves to their churches and to the wider world. Like Martha we need to be activists. Like Mary we need to be contemplative. And like Lazarus we need to know our own needs and limits. Lazarus cannot raise himself (John 11.1-45), Jesus must do it for him. Perhaps the vocation to ministry is not to somehow achieve 'perfect' balance, but to continually engage with the tensions inherent in this uncommon occupation. To be perpetually occupied and pre-occupied with what might occupy the heart of God in this place, among these people. 

When events overtake us, when we are stricken, when the demands of ministry become simply overwhelming we need the hospitality of others, sometimes friends and sometimes strangers. The latin 'hospes' means 'host' or 'guest', especially someone who is not our own kith or kin. In early times hosting and hospitality were linked to the protection and survival of guests, not merely entertaining them. Our ministry at Sheldon is first and foremost one of hospitality.

We dare to try and be a safe place for people in ministry. We recognise that in an occupation that is often boundless ministers can easily become exhausted. That burnout can arise from the very offering of compassion and cherishing that also forms, fulfils and engages us. We can have 'plenty in the tank' but fail to notice the wear and tear on the tyres. We offer a place of re-formation, refreshment, renewal, recovery, recuperation and revival. A place to re-member those who sense that ministry has been dis-membering them in body, mind or spirit. We offer our home in which we host our guests.

You are welcome to add your own thoughts on the Mary and Martha story

Paul Overend - Aug 22, 2020

Laurel Dykstra gives an interesting commentary on this passage of Luke 10. The point I get from her commentary is not about discipleship though, but in an idea that Jesus is exposing the reasons for Martha’s business, which is her worry.

In the two climax verses (40 and 41) there are four different words for worry. Martha isn’t simply “distracted” (a common translation) but, more literally translated, is “pulled in all directions”. She not only lacks focus, but busies herself to give her focus from her worries,. ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.’ (Cf., ilies of the field—“which one of you by worrying”)

The contras MAY be less one of contemplation and service, then, than worry and care/attention.

You are welcome to add your own thoughts on the Mary and Martha story

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