So What About Jesus?
Whenever someone comes to me and shares that they feel called to be ordained a priest, I get a little excited and a little sad. I get excited because the person has had a close experience with God where they feel newly loved and called to serve the world more generously. Getting to be with people when they have such a holy visitation is invigorating. I get sad for a couple reasons. Less than half the people that I have met with over the years who have felt that calling have actually ended up being ordained. The process is arduous and takes a long time. People often have family limitations which make ordination too impractical. It’s a costly process financially and emotionally. The church isn’t able to ordain all who feel called and sometimes chooses not to ordain people for a variety of reasons. So the way ahead for those aspiring to ordination is long and difficult and not likely to come to fruition in the way expected.
The main reason I get a little sad, however, when someone tells me they think they want to be a priest is that what they imagine priests spending most of their time doing isn’t at all what we actually do. People imagine priests being surrounded with holy and peaceful sorts of decisions when, in fact, much of what we do is more temporal and involves a rather large amount of conflict. People imagine the priesthood as a warm and secure sort of lifestyle whereas priests often end up pretty lonely and are constantly uprooted. Priests are temporary fixtures wherever they serve and not everyone is wired for that. I truly love being a priest, may have been formed for it in the womb, but it ain’t for everybody. Those called have to deal with disillusionment before and after ordination.
As my sister is fond of saying, the word “minister” is the root for the word “administrate.” A great deal of my time is spent in administration. Now I happen to love administration and am drawn to it. Typically those feeling a call to ordination aren’t so enamored with the grimy little details of administration. Priests, Rectors at least, spend most of their time dealing with staff issues, financial challenges, air conditioning and plumbing, construction and buildings, leaky roofs and parking lots.
Churches, at their best, are gatherings of hungry people looking for a deeper relationship with the God who holds life together. Churches bring out the very best in people. Except when they don’t. Then they bring out the worst. People in churches are sometimes petty, self-centered, image-conscious, mired in fear, angry and mean-spirited. But, as we work through our human frailties, we usually discover some of our potential which is downright delightful and so very lovable. We as humans can be so wonderful and the Church helps us be that way.
St. John’s is the gold standard for churches. There is a holy presence available here when we are gathered together and even when we just walk in the front door all alone. We can feel the prayers offered over the years and God’s guidance in the very walls themselves. We have a rich history and tremendous resources. And, as priests go, I may well be the gold standard. If so, it is because of my long tenure here and what I have learned in your midst. Together we enjoy what so very few congregations and priests ever find. We forget that from time to time, but it refuses to be lost among the sometimes distracting little details of our institutional living.
The challenge for priests is to keep their eyes on that holy presence of Jesus which brought us to want to serve the church and which has sustained us through thick and thin over the years of our service. When I am dealing with money or buildings or conflict, the manner in which I can put all that in its proper perspective and ground myself in the love of Christ for me and all creation will determine my ultimate success and fulfillment. The challenge for people in churches is very similar. When we can deal with the temporal matters of the institutional church while focusing primarily on the hope of the resurrection, then we know something that is only available to those of us who call church our true home.
Sometimes in church life we lose sight of Jesus. And when we do, Jesus comes again with renewed power. Our forgetting is turned into a deeper remembering. Our fears are allayed and we are empowered to serve the Lord and the Lord’s children with deeper commitment.
The challenge for us all, priests and parishioners alike, is to lean into the love of Christ. We do the best we can with the temporal matters of the institutional church and we rest in God’s love for all of us together.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Inquirers’ Class – Sundays in Lent
All those who wish to learn more about the Episcopal Church are invited to attend the Inquirers’ Classes held on the Sundays in Lent, March 10 – April 14, at 9:15, led by the Rector. The class is open to newer parishioners and those who have been here for a long time too. Subjects will include: Distinguishing Features of the Episcopal Church; Church History; Holy Scriptures; the Book of Common Prayer; the Sacraments, and plenty of opportunity for questions. You need not register for the classes but if you wish to be confirmed by the Bishop on April 10 at 5:30 pm, please contact Robert Wisnewski (firstname.lastname@example.org).