The first time I put on a clerical robe I felt as if I was wearing a costume. It was a classic Geneva-style gown adorned with gold cords and crosses, a gift from the congregation where I’d served as an intern. I felt small beneath its billowing sleeves and folds of fabric. I wondered if I looked like a child wearing her father’s suit jacket. Eventually, I gave up inspecting myself every time I put it on. Instead, Sunday after Sunday I just wore my liturgical garb like a uniform, never exactly feeling comfortable, but eventually feeling less foolish.
That’s my hope for you: that you will never get too comfortable in the robe or role of pastor, but that week by week, visit by visit, service by service, you will feel less foolish and more a fool for Christ. The less foolish part just means less self-conscious and better able to be present to the people, the Word, the Spirit. I want that for you, the gift of being lost in wonder, love and praise. Those moments sneak up on you in this work. An ordinary Sunday suddenly grabs you by the shoulders, shakes you and leaves you unequivocally aware of God’s presence in the room. No thunder boomed, the earth didn’t shake, the paraments remain in one piece, but still, you know you’ve been visited by Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That’s my hope for you: On days when the meetings run long and the complaints ring trivial and you suspect your work is in vain, I hope you go visit the person you don’t know all that well, the one awaiting some medical pronouncement in a hospital room, and they tell you their greatest fears and their deepest longings and you realize the gift of truly being with another human being — no pretense, no pride, vulnerable, together. Never forget that this gift comes to you by way of the robe, collar or pastoral ID badge. The gift, the grace, comes because of the calling, not because you are capable, worthy or skilled.
My hope for you is this: that you won’t capitulate to the prevalence of grumbling among church leaders. We work so hard. We are so stressed. We never get a day off, not really. Nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen, not even Jesus. If you find yourself falling into this trap of self-pity and self-absorption, I hope you will take a walk and look around. Get up at dawn and listen to the trash trucks roll by no matter the weather. Read the paper and remember the public defender representing the young man who shot his former classmates. Go have lunch with some local school kids, thank the cafeteria worker, the janitor, the teachers who buy pencils and markers and the principal worried about the student who sleeps in a car. Make sure you get out a lot so that you don’t imagine that your call is the most important, the most difficult or the most holy.
I know the church has changed a great deal since I donned that first robe. I hear it all the time: smaller, shrinking, less prevalent, less relevant. Yes. Guilty as charged. And yet, Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against his church and long before our branch of the vine existed, God spoke to Moses and temporarily blinded Paul and visited Teresa of Ávila. Through plagues, wars, revolutions, natural disasters and all manner of change, God remains faithful, calls together the covenant community, raises up leaders, promises justice, restores people, transforms lives and refuses to give up on this chaotic, sinful beloved world. So, in short: Be not anxious. It doesn’t help anyway.
That’s my hope for you: Don’t be afraid. Be the voice of hope to the hopeless, the light in the darkness, the one who speaks of resurrection even to, especially to, those chained to the grave. Proclaim the wisdom that is foolishness to the world until you believe it most days yourself. And every day may you feel less foolish and more present, but never convinced of your own wisdom and always only a fool for Christ.
Grace and peace,