My nephew thinks I have a remarkably cool job. As in, after seeing the box of yet-interred ashes on a shelf in my office and the church playground that is easily accessible from my rectory, he exclaimed, "How do you GET a job like this!?!"
He is eight, but he's right. Far too often, clergy deal with the unseemly side of humanity: the acting out of fearful congregants; the bullying that is part of every system, even the church; people in the midst of dark and depressing events that pull at the part of us that so desperately wants to make it better, but our wiser side realizes all we can usually do is sit with them in that place. Oh yes, we are there in that place very often.
But we do get to do a hefty amount of amazingly cool stuff. Much of it, at least for me, is witnessed only by God and the people involved, and that's the way it should be in holy ministry. But there are some things that are banner-worthy. So, church playground in the backyard aside, here are a few of my cool priest moments that I hope resonate with many of you on this first day of fall.
1. Hearing the speaker for a Diocesan event wants to meet you because of the DirtySexyMinistry blog. And that our moms and the COO of the Episcopal church read the blog, too. Face it, we're still amazed anyone reads it for sustenance and not for ammunition.
2. Being part of a faith community that baptizes. And not dropping the baby. I don't baptize. We as a community baptize. However, someone is authorized by the liturgy to do the actual pouring of the holy water. It's an amazing privilege and moment of humility to be entrusted by the Church to be part of this sacred event. And even moreso that I've not dropped an infant into the font. There is still time, however.
3. That one of the active patriarchs of the parish who is retired and a wonderful part of the community knows who P!NK is and knows her music. Maybe he can even sing along, but that may be pushing things. Oh, and that I got one of her songs played at diocesan convention, which led to another priest's matriarch asking, "Did she say, 'panty snatcher' in that song?" Awe-some.
4. Sitting quietly in the church late one night after a particularly long day and feeling the joyful truth of naming St. Michael's as the parish I serve (as opposed to "my parish," another phrase I hear from priests that makes me bristle). I hope every clergy person regularly sits alone in the church with God simply to feel that reality of servant ministry in their bones. I get chills. And it tickles.
5. Ditching the closed-toe sensible black shoes at the altar. A pair of turquoise suede sling backs were my first act of rebellion several years ago. I'm quite sure God is more concerned about the humility and love in our hearts and souls than appropriate footwear. I'm also betting that God is all about fabulous. So, snakeskin pumps and jeweled sling backs it will be.
6. Hearing, "You're cool...for a priest." And realizing it's not that much of a compliment. I mean, by and large, we are not a cool and hip bunch of people in many ways. The bar for cool clergy is pretty low. But enjoying it, anyway.
7. Being an extra in a couple of television shows and movies, because I "played" a priest in the part.
8. Having John, who was a regular transient in Mobile, Alabama, know me by name. And meeting the guy who played the President on "24." Only certain vocations give you the occasion to meet that wide of a swath of humanity in a short period of time.
9. Flubbing the lines in the canon of the Mass or singing the Mass in a setting known only to God and me, getting a terrible case of the giggles during the service, breaking a chalice, knocking over the altar flowers, or any number of epic fails that remind me that I am far away from perfect. And realizing that God is praised, anyway.
10. Getting caught by the Altar Guild dancing to Beyonce one Saturday when I was working at the parish. "Cool moment" may be a stretch, particularly for the women who saw me dropping it like it's hot. As I stood there in my terrible embarrassed, one of the ladies said, "Well, it's nice to know you're just a regular person." Yes, indeed.