Up Front and Personal

Ministering Heart-to-Heart For 20 Years

By David Powell 

It was another typical heart-to-heart ministry party in June in Sullivan Hall at North American Martyrs parish, Bayside – prayer, good food, special needs individuals and small groups from all over the diocese, music, more prayer and dancing flowing together naturally, plus  a  couple of bishops (Bishops Chapetto and Valero) and, of course, a Beatles song by Father Tom Pettei. “A good time was had by all” would be an understatement because all the love and joy of any Heart-to-Heart gathering was even more intense in this quasi-liturgical celebration.

Now some would say that Heart-to-Heart ministry is all about Sister Ave Clark, O.P., who 20 years ago set off on this new type of prayer ministry at a time when such things were very rare. Even way back then, as she still does now, she would go to any parish anywhere in the Greater New York area for any group, no matter how early in the morning or how small (or in my case once for a huge group of Caribbean First Communion parents packed into a school cafeteria on a freezing cold Sunday with only coffee, bagels and Sr. Ave to keep them warm).

One person who would definitively say that Heart-to-Heart ministry is not about Sister Ave is Sister Ave herself. Now as someone who has engaged in various types of Bible discussion ministry myself, I always see it as about what arrangements I can make to offer various types of discussion based on my way of presenting.

“Of course it is not about me. It always has been an inspiration of the Holy Spirit to gather ordinary people in groups for a spirituality of prayer, hope and healing, or to let them talk on a telephone prayer line… people with fears, sorrows and illnesses come and visit and receive comfort and compassion from each other from themselves listening to the Spirit speak,” says Sister Ave. “You see how it’s not about me. I just give them an opportunity for heart-to-heart, and believe me it’s a mutual ministry: my heart is so nurtured by theirs!”

Case in point: in the spring of 2003, Sister Ave was to be my guest speaker at a Communion parents meeting when I got a call the day before that she had been in a terrible accident (remember the Long Island railroad train that got detached and slammed into four cars…hers was one of them). And yet six months later, there she was giving a talk in my parish on a windy rainy night, bandaged feet and hands and all and did the people minister to her that night as she gave a talk about “detours in life,” based on her accident. I was so amazed as I drove her home (she was driving herself by the end of the year).

I am firmly convinced that somewhere out there are people who can work with or be inspired by Sister Ave to carry on this ministry wherever and whenever as the Spirit moves. Sister Ave has been a Dominican sister for 53 years and perhaps the Spirit will move some other young woman, or young man, or married couple or group of people not just to take part in this ministry but to carry it on, heart-to-heart, ad multos annos!


David Powell is a retired religious educator in the Diocese of Brooklyn