If you receive the weekly newsletter from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Millburn, this will be familiar. It is the message for March 1, 2019.
This week in the office has been “one of those weeks.” You get my meaning, right? A week in which it seems that nothing I set out to do went without a glitch. We had computer and phone issues. We needed to call in the locksmith to fix a broken emergency egress lock. We were working on all of the somewhat mundane behind the scenes stuff that is necessary to keep the parish going. And, to top it all off, it is also the week the annual parochial report is due. This is the mandatory reporting to the diocese and national church about membership numbers, attendance at Sunday services, and finances. Although it is important to our understanding of health and vitality of The Episcopal Church and one of the data sets that is used to decide mission strategies and such, it is probably fair to say it is one of the least favorite parts of parish ministry for most clergy. And yet it has to be done so we do it.
While working on it this week and, if I am to be truthful, doing so with less than a joyful heart, with thoughts that this is not why I went to seminary and jumped through all the hoops on the way to ordination running through my head, I was interrupted by a woman who came in to talk to me about a personal concern. I’d never met her before, so I was a bit surprised and had absolutely no way of anticipating where the conversation would go or how it would turn out. And I am aware that the sudden transition from the highly detailed work I had been doing to talking with someone didn’t feel as seamless as it usually feels for me. At first I found it hard to ignore the ticking clock that was reminding me so loudly of all the things I needed to get done.
And then it happened! The wise, wild, and wonderful Holy Spirit cracked it wide open, cracked me wide open. Suddenly I saw – in that top-of-your-head-to-the-tip-of-your-toes ways of seeing – that this time with her is exactly why I went to seminary and jumped through all the hoops on the way to ordination. The privilege to just be with someone, to listen to them with your whole heart, to acknowledge their pain and their hope, is what makes all of the mundane daily, weekly, monthly, and annual work worth doing. True, the gift of getting to be with people often means the work we planned to do gets pushed aside or delayed and we need to rethink our plan. True, too, the gift of connection to others is one of the surest signs of God’s grace.