Tuesday, April 01, 2008
On the way the neediness of the pastor can creep in and screw up a moment.
It is a peculiar characteristic of my little part of the world that people come, and they never leave. This happened to me. The ex-Mr. Magdalene and I moved here in 1990, with every intention of leaving after three to five years (he was a graduate student here). But... lo and belower, he decided to switch his career track, we realized that you can NOT beat the cost of living here, it was a place with lots of cultural stuff going on (symphonies, plays, opera, etc.), it was just three hours from the Best City in the World, it was a wonderful place to raise kids, etc. etc. etc. I think this happens to lots of people. I know it happens to lots of clergy, in particular. And that, gentle reader, is where my problem begins.
Clergy don't leave. We come, and we like it here for any number of reasons, and we stay. Our presbytery powers that be have taken somewhat of a laissez-faire attitude about all this... and that has been to my advantage, I hasten to add. I started my ordained career as an interim associate pastor at a church about 2 miles from New Church. I then commuted an hour east of here to be an interim pastor for about 20 months. I then commuted an hour north of here to be interim chaplain at Big Ivy. Now I am settled at New Church, hopefully, until Jesus comes. But what's good for this goose... is giving her a little headache as well. The Former Pastor of New Church arrived at New Church after serving a church about 8 miles East; he now serves a church about 7 miles East (yes, one mile from the first church in the trio). So, not to try to justify myself at his expense, but he keeps serving churches to which members of his former churches can commute. He is very much in the neighborhood. Which means, sometimes, people call him for stuff that I ought to be doing.
In the fall, within a month of my arrival, he presided at two weddings. They had been booked more than a year in advance, the couples involved were nervous about waiting for a pastor they would have just met; I said, OK, I officially invite you to preside at these weddings. And I participated as well, naturally. Also, I invited FP to preside at a funeral that the family needed to schedule while I was at Disney in late December. Fair enough.
About a month ago, a lovely woman of the congregation called me to simply let me know. A member who has been living out of town died; her daughter called Lovely Woman to ask for the phone number of Former Pastor, to do the interment later in the spring. (It's usually not possible to bury folks here in the winter.) This interment will occur in a cemetery which our church owns, just down the street from us.
I immediately dashed off an email to FP, saying, "Please notify me when the family contacts you, and refer them to me, so that I may do the interment." This is Ministerial Ethics 101, in case any of the readers of this blog is mystified. A new pastor cannot be the "REAL" pastor until the former pastor is truly out of the system. He knows that. I know that. This morning, thinking about this situation for reasons which will become apparent in the next paragraph, I dashed off an email to the cemetery business manager, asking for the heads up when he is contacted by the family about the interment. Unless people lie to me, in other words, I should have an opportunity, appropriately, to do this burial.
Yesterday I received a call from an elderly member of the congregation; his wife had gone into the emergency room in the middle of the night, with a number of complicated symptoms, and he was about to go into the ER himself, with acute back pain due to a fall. I decided to run over to his house to await his transportation with him. In the course of the conversation... a difficult one, having to do with aging, failing, deciding to go into a nursing facility or not, dying.... he mentioned that he has already notified Charismatic Son of the Church that he should be available to do the funerals of his wife and himself. Charismatic Son of the Church is just retired from ministry, now lives about a half hour from New Church, and has never served the church as pastor. The elderly gentleman was his youth group leader, about 40 years ago (a youth group that gave rise to 3 ministers over the space of ten years, in fact). I literally felt the hackles on the back of my neck rise.
"Well, J., I would hope to do your funeral, since I'm your pastor." At which point this gentle, courtly man said, "Of course, you could do it together." And I proceeded to kick myself in my mental butt.
I was right, and I was wrong. Right in the Big Picture: I'm the pastor; it is right and meet that I should perform all pastoral functions with and for this congregation. But Wrong Wrong Wrong on timing and circumstance. This man was fearful, in pain, terrified, really, and mentioned one tiny detail of his arrangements that gives him peace. And my ego would not have it.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
~ ~ ~
PS: DO MY MOVIE MEME, Y'ALL!