October 15, 2013
I have found that along with the black shirt and white collar, comes a certain amount of authority or power. I have clergy friends who deny it, or try and downplay it—but I think we do a disservice to people when we do. Power and authority are not bad things in and of themselves. They are only bad when used badly—or misused to dominate or manipulate others. To deny having the power, only makes us susceptible to accidently misuse it. I believe we need to own it, explore its parameters and then recognize, as our webbed hero has so aptly put it, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
This became clear to me on a day when I was in a rush to move from a certain pastoral visit to an important meeting scheduled back at the office. I was visiting a parishioner at a rehab center. The night before the nursing staff had done a very poor job of caring for her needs—so poor in fact that their behavior really needed to be reported. But she was fine now, and the new day team was doing a good job.
As I left her room and headed past the nurses station, I thought, “I should probably stop and report this.” I reasoned with myself that she had already reported it—and I would be late for the meeting if I stayed. But I could not help but recall the difference in responses in the past—when a patient or their family member reported or requested something—and when I did, and the difference in response when I have gone into a hospital wearing clericals instead of ordinary clothes. The authority of the collar does get the attention of the medical staff in a way that a caring friend cannot claim. I was her advocate—and I was walking out the door.
I stopped and turned around.
How could I claim to be coming in the name of the Lord if I was unwilling to represent the third part of the Trinity when that was what was called for. I made the report. They took careful notes. And her nighttime experiences greatly improved.
I began to notice other times when in fact an advocate was precisely what was needed in a situation. There are times when a word of scripture, or a prayer for healing, or money for groceries is just not going to meet the need.
There are times when what someone needs is a strong authority figure to accompany them into the courtroom to await the judges ruling on child custody issues. There are times when a single mom needs that authoritative companion to accompany her into a conference with school teachers and administrators who are not listening to her concerns. There are times when a landlord or a car shop has taken advantage of someone with little means—and it makes all the difference in the world when a clergy person walks in the room with them.
Sometimes I actually bargain on someone’s behalf. But many times, I do not even say a word. I just stand there in my clericals, gently nodding, as the person I have escorted is now able to speak with a boldness they did not have before. In those moments I am reminded of the boldness that filled the disciples on that Pentecost morning and my understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in my own life expands. I am ever grateful that I have an advocate who walks alongside me. And I am deeply honored to be called to share in that ministry with the Holy Spirit.