September 3, 2013

Fitting in--And Adam's Rib

Sometimes it’s shaving your head. Volunteering for the dunking booth. Or staying to clean up after the women’s tea.

In all of our congregations, there’s been a moment when things shift. It’s almost imperceptible but like finally breaking in a pair of heels, suddenly things seem to fit better.

This blog is for both priests (and their families) and people in the congregation. For priests, it’s a promise that most of the time, the shift will happen, and people will see you in a new light, still as preacher and pastor but also a member of the community. For people in the pews, I write this to say that it’s hard waiting for the shift, feeling of-but-not-in the community. I hope you’ll work to make the wait easier by including the priest in your end-of-summer soiree and the neighborhood block party.

I'm sure this raises the ire of some, who perhaps rightfully claim priests should stand apart. Priests can’t be friends with parishioners, they say. Fraternizing only leads to blurred lines of authority, accountability, and respect.

But I’m not talking about cozying up, the priest and parishioners becoming BFF’s. Rather, when this shift happens, the priest is seen as part of the community. You’re no longer surprised if you run into him or her at the grocery store (priests eat?) or in the park (priests walk their dogs?). It’s when you’re thinking about the guest list for a Christmas party, and the priest makes it on there not of obligation but because the omission would seem weird.

At one of our churches, the shift happened when my husband climbed into the ditch and helped shovel the dirt and repair a busted pipe. At another, I think the shift occurred when he picked up his wandering toddler daughter and held her during the sermon.  

At our current congregation, it’s happening, I think, right now. My husband is competing in the state BBQ contest, so he’s been talking smoking techniques, sauce recipes, and throwing around terms like “bark” and “savory.” For the end-of-summer cookout, he smoked 18 pounds of pulled pork; he put it on at midnight on Saturday and some men from the congregation pulled it off the smoker while he preached on Sunday morning. 

People have asked for jars of the BBQ sauce (or for the recipe, promising they won’t divulge it to others). He’s getting calls about brown sugar in the pork rub and how to get the heat to remain steady. I don’t think most people would see this as a particular turning point in their relationship with their priest, but I can see it as a moment when the pastor becomes neighbor, when Sunday becomes integrated with every day. 

And I’ll be honest: it doesn’t hurt that he’s a pretty great cook. But what else would you expect with this slogan for his BBQ team: “Ribs so good Adam wouldn’t give one up.”