Thursday, January 28, 2016

I Didn't Go To Seminary So That I Could...

I drove up to the church, just days after the blizzard, and there they were.

Two stalwart members, digging out the sidewalk, trying to get as much done in the warm of the day before the freeze hit that evening.  I waved, they waved back, and I pulled into the lot.  When I got out of my van and headed for the church, I was carrying a bunch of things with me.

I had a Religious Studies degree from the University of Virginia.  I had a Masters of Divinity from my seminary, Magna Cum Laude, no less.  I had a freshly minted Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Leadership Excellence.

And I had a shovel.

For the next hour and a half, I grunted excellently, hummed pastorally and showed leadership in heaving snow, because that was what needed to be done.  My shoulders and arms and glutes may have been worn from the days before, but they forgot their ache in the rhythm of the digging.

About half an hour in, a woman and her young son arrived with a shovel.  They weren't members, but had a plot in the community garden our congregation hosts on our property.  They joined in, and in the breaks to let my well worn late-forties back recover, I chatted with them about life and the church.

By the time we were done, the facility was entirely accessible, not just for our use, but also for those in the community we welcome in.

Four years of undergraduate education, and what became eleven years of postgraduate education, and I'm shoveling snow.

Which is, having paid attention to my good teachers during that time, exactly what I should have been doing.

It's one of the joys of pastoring small congregations.  Sure, you preach and teach and pray.  But your role is different.  You are not the manager, the one in charge of everything.  You are not the Face-of-the-Brand Chief Executive Christian.  You are not the Visionary Font of All Wisdom.

Oh, sure, you're "casting a vision."  The vision of you, doing what Jesus asked, no matter how much it may leave your ego hungry and your back aching.

You get dirty, and you break a sweat.  You get to use shovels and mops. You give food to the hungry, and you clean up the dishes and scrub the pans afterwards.

It's easy, in the institutional cultures of the Oldline or the corporate culture of AmeriChrist, Inc., to lose sight of that way of being.  You allow yourself to fall into a role, wearing a mask that has more to do with your place in the organizational hierarchy than with your journeying with others who have chosen to walk the Way.

"You didn't go to seminary just so you could [fill in the menial task here,]" an umbrage-filled voice may whisper in your ear.  "How dare they expect you to do that!"

This is probably not Jesus.

Just so's you know.