Walking into the hot, humid gym, I was instantly surrounded by a chaotic mob of youth in brightly colored jerseys. Some were trailing parents out to the parking lot, having just finished a game. Others were in the middle of the floor passing a soccer ball back and forth as they warmed up. Just inside the door, I spotted the father of the youth I had come to cheer on. We found two empty chairs on the sidelines of the court, right up against a cement wall, and watched as the teams took their positions.
This was supposed to be a relatively relaxed game of indoor soccer, and it certainly started off that way – right up until the hefty ball came flying over the short padded barrier in front of us and was deftly batted back into the game by a couple of parents sitting a mere two chairs down from me. At that point, I could feel myself growing just a little bit tense, because while I had always enjoyed dodgeball (which is clearly what this game had become, at least as far as the spectators were concerned) I wasn’t particularly good at it and the projectile being used in this game was significantly harder than the foam ones that had been thrown at me in elementary school. So, for a couple of minutes I kept my eyes on the ball and my hands at the ready. But there were no more close calls. So I went back to my conversation with my youth’s dad.
Now, when it comes to talking, I don’t multitask very well. If I don’t give the person I’m speaking with my full attention, I don’t hear most of what they’re saying. So it’s perhaps not surprising that, while chatting with this parent, I stopped paying attention to the game. And so it’s probably also not surprising that when the ball hit me square in the side of the face, I didn’t even see it coming. Suddenly there was this explosion of pain in my cheek and an equally jarring smacking of my head into the wall behind me. There had been no opportunity to put my hands up – I was caught completely off guard, which I’m sure made me look completely inept.
After I assured everyone that I was, in fact, fine, the game continued. So did my conversation with the father, but my eyes were now glued to the ball. Perhaps they didn’t need to be, though, because every time it looked like it might fly our way this dad leaned towards me and put out his hands; it was clear he would save me from any other bodily injury. His concern made me a little uncomfortable, though – I wanted to prove that I was capable enough as an athlete that I could defend myself; I wanted to prove that I didn’t need help.
Looking back on it now, a couple of weeks later, this seems like a pretty good metaphor for my life as a pastor. Maybe I’m just not much of a multitasker in general, but it seems like it’s not uncommon for me to have my attention focused on one facet of my ministry only to be slammed in the face by something that I didn’t even see coming. And just like the father I was sitting with, I have a fantastic congregation who are ready to throw out their hands and catch the proverbial ball when necessary. The challenge for me is letting them. Because I’ve been taught to be independent and self-sufficient. I’ve been taught that needing help isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that ministry, like dodgeball, is a team sport – we need each other if we want to make it through life without getting knocked out of the game.
Jennifer Barchi is serving as the Solo Pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.