Saturday I attended the St. Catherine University winter retreat day for students and alumni of the school’s Masters in Theology program (for which I do some adjunct teaching). The keynote was delivered by Edward Hahnenberg, a professor at John Carroll University, who spoke on the subject Ministry with a Mission: The Work and Witness of Lay Ministers Today.
Early in his talk, Hahnenberg quoted language from the 2005 USCCB document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: “The same God who called Prisca and Aquila to work with Paul in the first century calls thousands of men and women to minister in our Church in the twenty-first century.” Indeed, the title of the 2005 document itself is a reference to Prisca and Aquila, who are referred to by Paul as his co-workers.
The names Prisca and Aquila are familiar to many, but their story is less familiar.
Like Paul, Prisca and Aquila were leatherworkers. The couple, followers of Jesus before they met Paul, left Rome after the Roman emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling all Jews from that city. They moved to Corinth shortly before Paul arrived there. A deep and lasting friendship developed between the two of them and Paul and they began to work with him. At some point, they moved to Ephesus with Paul. When Paul left that city, he left Prisca and Aquila in charge of the church of Ephesus. In the mid-50s, the couple returned to Rome, where Paul greeted them as his “co-workers.”
Hahnenberg made the point that many have an image of Paul as a solitary missionary. The reality is that he survived because of the hospitality of many fellow Christians who traveled and ministered with him. People like Prisca and Aquila – who Paul referred to as “co-workers” and “collaborators” – were instrumental to the success of his ministry, and it is good to remember that.