Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lessons of a Not-So-Clever Priest

After nearly thirteen years serving as a priest in The Episcopal Church, I’ve learned a few things the old-fashioned way:

1. Nobody really cares about your professional credentials or seminary education, and everybody has an opinion about how you should be doing your “job.” Live with it.

2. You can crack jokes in sermons, meetings, and cocktail parties, and be the cleverest priest they ever met. You can be the best preacher and teacher in the world and the most erudite theologian and liturgist on the corner. But what they really want to know is, “Do you love us?”

3. Don’t expect anything to really happen until: a) someone is offering decent liturgy and preaching on a regular basis; b) people’s basic pastoral care needs are being met; and c) the parish’s administrative affairs are in order and are competently managed. If you can’t accomplish this yourself, find the help to make it happen, and don’t work on anything else until you do.

4. Politics, housing, and church life are truly all local. Don’t get caught up too much in the news about the wider church or its demise. When most of the people we serve hear “church” they think first and foremost of the congregation where they are a member.

5. Never put full credence in either your harshest critics or your greatest fans. Both change their minds on a dime, and both will lead you down blind paths if you let them.

6. There’s a lot of talk about “leadership” in the Church these days. Much of it is egotistical baloney. It’s always a good idea to shut up and listen. It’s also a good idea to authentically tend to your own faith journey and prayer life. Most real leadership flows from there.

7. Be curious about the people you serve. This is not about you.

8. Knowing your limits is just as important as knowing your power and responsibilities -- perhaps even more so.

9. Never go it alone, and always check your own counsel with people you trust.

10. Be courageous enough to make mistakes and humble enough to apologize for them.

11. Bullies need the same thing you do: honesty and accountability. Cultivate both.

12. The Church generally moves slower than molasses in Vermont in January before climate change. Learn to be patient.

13. The Church is not primarily a social service agency. Nor is it a mere sacramental grocery store. Never forget that Christ is at work here, somewhere, despite the best and worst you bring to bear. For this priest, that recognition is often Gospel.

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