Kinship Instead of Service

By Julia Hobday

The search —
for self,
for wisdom,
for love,
for truth,
for justice,
for God —
is strenuous and unending.

We need good companions
in order to persevere in it.
In good company,
in a community of conviction,
the quest never loses its
relevance,
its urgency,
or its savor.
—Kaye Ashe, Order of Preachers

This quote holds a prominent place in my home, reminding me daily of the importance of relationship in the work I do. It humbles me, reminding me that I cannot accomplish anything alone. I need “good companions in order to persevere.”

Kaye Ashe was a Sinsinawa Dominican sister, a member of a community that was formative in my post-college years entering the work world. As an Apostolic Volunteer, I and other laypeople (non-ordained) lived in an intergenerational, inter-gender, interracial, intentional community with Sinsinawa sisters. We were also placed in “ministries,” or work sites, where Dominican sisters worked. From them I learned the importance of relationships in effecting change in the world.

I went to Chicago for a year of service. Placed in two economically challenged neighborhoods in highly segregated Chicago (mostly Black North Lawndale and Pilsen, a Mexican immigrant community), I was excited to live within and serve these communities that were so different from the small, homogeneous town I grew up in. Reflecting back, I often wonder how much I unconsciously approached my experiences out of a “white savior” mentality. It’s a common flaw of well-meaning white people to think that they can enter a community and change it in ways they deem better, placing their own values on others in the guise of service. If I did have that initial motivation, the sisters gently and persistently disabused me of it.

Rather than a servant or savior relationship, my mentors modeled one of kinship. Rev. Gregory Boyle beautifully illustrates the lesson the sisters quietly conveyed through their daily actions in his book “Tattoos on the Heart.” Boyle promotes, “kinship, not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not a man for others. He was one of them,” he says. “There is a world of difference.”   Kinship is a relationship in which each party mutually benefits from the other; there is no top-down, one beholden to the other. The lesson for me was, we need less hierarchy and more partnership in this troubled world.

“At the heart of ministry is relationship” is the unofficial tagline of the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters.  Those of us working in the secular world don’t call our work “ministry,” but relationship is no less important to the efficacy of our work. Adamant about being in relationship with those from varied walks of life, one sister strongly believed that our community and work lives were microcosms of our wider world community. Our small conflicts, shared joys and common problems were practice for being members of the larger world: “If we can’t make it work on this level, how the hell will we make it work globally?”

Now, years later, I am happy to be working in a space that values relationship as much as I do.  I am not in this work alone. Thanks to the “good companions” I have in my colleagues at BetterWorld, our clients and partners, and our community members, I have faith that we will make it a better world.

Questions to Consider:

  • How does relationship sustain you through work that is, “strenuous and unending?”
  • When you volunteer, do you enter into relationship from a savior mode?  Servant? Kinship?
  • What efforts are being made to dismantle hierarchy/patriarchy and promote more equitable power dynamics in our communities and institutions today?
  • Can there be justice without kinship?

Further Reading 

To learn about the amazing Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters:  https://www.sinsinawa.org/index.html

For more on Reverend Gregory Boyle’s books and his work with gang members in LA, go to:  https://www.homeboyindustries.org/fatherg/

“We can do all the work around diversity…but if there are no relationships, it’s idle work”~ Communications Professional, How Can Women be Better Allies? MPR News, October 1, 2018 https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/10/01/kerri-miller-how-women-can-be-better-allies