Monthly Reflection: June, 2013

It’s hard to believe that only a month ago we were dealing with a broken down moving truck in Jackson, MS.  Yeah!  The Penske mechanics apparently didn’t give our truck a very thorough checkover before renting it to us.  And to think, I could have sat back and watched a professional moving company labor and strain in the comfort of my own lemonade-equipped armchair.  The church was paying for the move.  But when I saw that the quote would cost the church more than $15K, out of the goodness of my heart I offered to move the household goods myself, all of them except the piano, so long as I would get reimbursed.  It saved the church more than $12K in the end, or more than two years of tithes on my end if I were to look at it that way.  Hmm.  But sitting there in 100-degree Mississippi mugginess, I had to ask myself whether it had been worth it.  Penske had the sense to hire a moving crew to transfer the load, after they had determined that the truck was indeed too broken down to be considered road worthy—a half-day determination, mind you—but apparently I had packed the truck so well that the professional moving crew couldn’t duplicate it: the load wouldn’t fit into the new albeit identically sized truck.  In the end the rest of the family, including the dog, moseyed on ahead while Daughter Em and I stayed behind, deciding to take in a new movie while we waited, After Earth, in an air-conditioned theater, complemented by ICEEs.  Good flick, by the way, thank you very much Will Smith.  Got us thinking a bit about the concept of fear.  Perhaps it was the one redeeming quality of this fiasco that now feels so long ago.

Otherwise the settling in went roughly as anticipated.  There are always countless chores to be done—setting up utilities, transferring driver’s licenses, registering cars, more trips to Home Depot than should be legal—and always too much money spent.  A good plan we’d made back in the spring was to attend a family camp at the beach June 6-9.  This meant putting our work of unpacking aside for a time, forcing ourselves to take a bit of a break.  It was good not only for improving our surfing and sand-castle building skills but also because it was the closest thing to resembling a family vacation for us this summer.

A week and a haircut and a beard trim later I began as Curate.  The timing of my start coincided with VBS week, which if you don’t know means the busiest week of a church’s summer.  We saw nearly two hundred kids each day from 8:45 to noon; and in my case it meant acting in a skit each morning, something I didn’t sign on to in my job description.  By the end of the week, whether I had wanted to or not, I’d gotten to know many people.  Otherwise during the first week I served in the Sunday services, preached at a Thursday morning Eucharist, and served at a funeral on Friday afternoon.

And, oh yeah, I crashed my motorcycle.  No need to rehash this event in detail, for I blogged about it in “Still an Enthusiast.”  My last motorcycle crash was in 1992.

Do you ever wonder what kind of first impression you make on someone?  People who study this kind of thing tell us that self-perception is highly inaccurate.  But with my acting, serving, meeting, processing, and motorcycle-crashing, I have no idea where even to begin.

As for my first impression of the parish?  This week I made a major flub.  When reading the Gospel in the main Sunday service out of the Gospel Book, where the Gospel readings appear in weekly order according to the Revised Common Lectionary, as I got a few sentences into it I felt some funny looks on me.  Another few sentences with an increasing feeling of funny looks upon me I decided to glance at the rubric above the reading.  “To be read on the Sunday closest to July 6,” it read.  But today is June 30, I realized, so I’m halfway through the wrong Gospel passage!  What to do?  The preacher was preaching on another reading, I knew.  So as gracefully as I could I ended the sentence and paused.  Then, “I’m sorry,” I announced to the three hundred faces looking at me, “I’m in the wrong Gospel.”  The hall burst into laughter.  But it wasn’t a condescending laughter, or patronizing.  It struck me rather as sympathetic.  Conversations following the service confirmed my impression.

As a whole then I feel like the people here have got my back.  It’s a curacy, meaning to them that it’s my first position in ministry.  Never mind my prior experience as a Youth Director or civil engineer or teacher or choir director or Latin professor.  Never mind my lifelong pursuits in writing and composing.  Oh, these are all cool talents and skills to the parish, sure, things that might come in handy now and again.  But my point here is a certain freshness.  I’m coming in as a blank slate: no history, no reputation.  The parishioners are therefore very sympathetic, desiring my success, feeling like they’ve got a project in their hands, to raise me up and send me out to do great things in Christ’s name with their stamp of approval upon me.  Frankly, it’s a nice place to be.  But I know ministry won’t always feel like this.

The second week proved much slower.  But a pattern is developing.  Sundays are full, services and interaction with parishioners all day long.  Mondays are my day off, meaning a day to take care of household chores and attempts made at not coming into the office—not always successfully.  Tuesdays are meetings all morning, and so far afternoons spent organizing my schedule and week and taking care of whatever business I can from the morning meetings.  Wednesdays through Fridays then feel like the only opportunity for real productivity–prayer, study, writing.  Of course interweaved through it all are visitations, counseling opportunities, other meetings, and so on.  But I need to change my mindset here, to see time spent with others as productive time too.  It might take some weeks . . . or months . . . or years . . . or . . .

And then there are Saturdays, which strike me as very similar to Mondays.  I am grateful to live within a few miles of my office.

Looking ahead, my ordination to the priesthood will be on Sunday and I will celebrate Eucharists on the Thursday and Sunday following and begin preaching regularly, meaning two Sundays out of every three and at various midweek services.  Other responsibilities include coordinating the daily school chapel services, to begin in August; and to be the first line of defense, so to speak, against those who come knocking on the church’s doors seeking help in the form of money.  Otherwise my rector (and mentor) intends to give me a big-picture understanding of the ins and outs of managing and leading a large parish over the next two-plus years.


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