Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Pulpit

Pure busy-ness prevents me from posting more often.

This morning Henry woke up earlier than usual, (about 6.30) and spend the next fifteen or twenty minutes sleeping in my arms in a rocking chair. I must say, having my little guy sleeping on my shoulder is one of the best sensations in the whole world. By 7 we were downstairs making coffee and breakfast shakes for mommy and daddy.

Betsy pointed out, helpfully, that I am being expected to function at both a Micro and Macro level of ministry simultaneously. Sometimes I'm being asked to think about the implications of Diocesan-level policies and help shape conversations happening at that level (via the Fresh Expressions Working Group, my column in the Anglican, etc.), and other times I'm being asked to stack chairs and create bulletins. Today, in fact, I spent about 2-3 hours preparing my church for a BCP (that's "Rite I" for you Americans) service we do once a month for about 10 mostly older members. I had forgotten to leave a note telling the cleaners how to set up the chairs. And the volunteer who normally handles lunch after the service had evidently forgotten.

So that left me to set up the chairs, the altar, and manage lunch. While I set up chairs I noted that they had been badly stacked (not the cleaner's fault, a group had been using the space Sunday afternoon)--which made my job more difficult than in should have been and put some scratches in the walls. As I arranged the chairs I reflected on the nature of ministry. Who would have imagined that I would have such strong opinions about the "correct" way to stack chairs? Whether I am being a perfectionist or merely doing what is necessary. What does it mean to take care of people?

So after setting up the chairs and doing everything necessary in the Sacristy (bread, wine, candles, books, holy-hardware), I ordered lunch from a deli just before it was time to Vest and take care of business. Six people showed up. Seriously, I think 2 1/2 hours of set-up plus another hour for the service and another for lunch (4.5 hours, total) is worth it for six people--but I doubt the rest of the congregation realizes what it takes to make a little service like this happen in a place like Messiah. Back when I had an Administrative Assistant I could rely on more of this happening without my intervention, but such is the breaks.

I preached a sermon, and even though I had barely looked at the texts ahead of time, it was a solid little homily and people responded with appreciative nods during and private asides after. When the candles were out I hopped on my bike ("George") and went to the Annex Hodgepodge to pick-up the lunch I had ordered. They helpfully put in a box for me and I strapped that to the rack on my bike. Pedalling back the church with sandwiches for my heniors (in my collar and corduroy jacket, no less) made me feel like an honest-to-God parson. It is supremely satisfying to feed people, especially when I do that it multiple ways all in one morning.

My folks noticed how hard I worked to get them lunch and were deeply appreciative. They said they wished they had known--but of course I had no idea my volunteer wasn't showing up until it happened. I could have called the night before, I suppose, but I certaintly don't think it's a good policy to call every volunteer to confirm their service the day before! Anyway the sandwiches were excellent and my people were very happy and feeling loved.

As my lunch was ending wo guests arrived for a meeting about a new ministry partnership that is brewing. I gave them some extra sandwiches and then had an excellent meeting about a potential project we are developing. My office is being repainted by volunteers, so we had to meet in same room where we served lunch. They didn't mind, meeting some of my parishioners actually gave them a firmer sense of what COTM is about, anyway.

That's my life. One minute I'm setting up chairs and sweeping the floor and another I'm discussing the history of supportive housing developments in my neighbourhood. Betsy is right, this kind of rapid switching from Microscale to Macro is difficult, and yet it seems somewhat inherent in the clerical calling. I don't mind the diversity of work. I enjoy working with hands and solving new kinds of problems. Perhaps the best part of being a priest, for me, is having to learn new things.

Tomorrow I have another morning service, then meetings, and then in the late afternoon and evening I'm going sailing. This sailing season I'm the Tactician on the team I crew with. It's a huge responsibility--a major step-up. And yet there is nothing I would rather do on the boat (which says something about the skipper's excellent discernment of crew roles). I've got a handsome new hand bearing compass and stop watch, and our practice sessions have gone well. Being the tactician is all about synthesizing a lot of information and then doing what you think is best for everybody on board. What more perfect role on a racing boat could there be for a parish priest? (A smart-Alec will suggest "bartender"--fie on him!)

There was a moment last Saturday when we were practising out in Lake Ontario in heavy fog and rain. I had my foul weather gear on and was hanging out on the bow as we approached a buoy that we were pretending was a mark on a race course. My job was to "call the tack"--that is, tell the the rest of the crew when to execute a 100 degree turn through the wind. The key, for me, was knowing just when the buoy was lying on the correct angle to the wind relative to our boat and anticipating the delay between the call and the actual turn. We were heeled over with a strong wind, and I was standing on the bow (front) of the boat with my hand bearing compass out in front of me. I could see the relative bearing of the buoy decreasing as it passed from forward of us to almost abreast of us. Just before it was at the correct bearing I yelled over the rain, "TACK!" and rushed forward.

The four other crew members executed the turn. Rather than retreat to the mast, I had chosen to go to the very forward most part of the boat (the "pulpit") and step over the leading edge of the front sail as it swept across the deck from one side of the boat to the other. It's much like mounting a bicycle, and as long as you grip something solid with both hands, perfectly safe. I was wearing a PFD over my rain gear just in case.

With the sails sheeted tight again, the boat heeled well over. As the buoy passed about a foot from the side I punched the air in excitement "YES!" It was about a prefect a call I could have imagined, and great fun to execute, too.

That's a big chunk of what my life is like, right there. Rain, fog, me with my Weems and Plath Compass waiting for just the right moment....


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