Monday, August 10, 2015

Queen of Miscellany

When I was first discerning my call to the priesthood, the Diocese arranged for me to meet with three seasoned clergy to learn about the working life of a parish priest. One of these priests was the Rev. Suzi Holding, Rector of the Church of Our Savior in suburban Elmhurst, Illinois. We sat in her office, and she told me a lot about her journey to ordination, her hard-fought success in moving the flags out of the chancel, and the rhythm of her week, with its regular tasks and impromptu demands. The image from the conversation that has stuck with me, though, was that of a doll. If I remember the story correctly, Suzi had received the doll as an ordination gift from a clergy colleague, and was duly named the "Queen of Miscellany," for that is what the life of a priest is like, her friend said.  Suzi, if you're reading this, feel free to correct and elaborate the story.

Volunteers setting up for the community breakfast.
In the three years that I've been ordained, I've found that Suzi's doll is an excellent metaphor for priestly ministry, and no more so than this last week. I've heard many times the joke that it must be nice to have to work only one day a week. So, what does a priest do the rest of the week? Well, in the first eight days as Interim Rector of Grace Place Episcopal Church of Chicago, much of the work has fallen under the miscellany category: administrative and staffing issues; meeting with the parish administrator, music director, and accountant; pastoral care visits with homeless residents; and introducing myself to the building's tenants. In the evenings, meeting with the church wardens and with a young couple to help them plan their upcoming wedding. On Saturday morning, unexpectedly staffing the dessert table at the weekly community breakfast hosted by a Methodist church. And just today, I had a delightful lunch with the head or our liturgy committee, proofed this week's Sunday bulletin, made an appointment to administer last rites, and of course, wrote my weekly blog. It is wonderful to see the building almost always full and busy; and I am grateful for every one of these interruptions or surprises, as well as for the things I had planned to do.

Sunday forum at Grace on Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus."
This will come as no surprise to many of my clergy colleagues, for whom this miscellany is the bread and butter of their week. Sermon preparation and presiding at worship are, of course, key responsibilities of the priest, but they often comprise a small part of the job. The nuts-and-bolts of keeping a building running when the boiler breaks (which happened before the first service on Sunday) or printing worship bulletins is just as important to me as being out in front breaking the bread. Sharing lunch or a cup of coffee on a Tuesday is just as important to me as sharing the chalice on Sunday. In fact, I have lunch and coffee appointments every day this week, just to get to know people in a way that I can't on Sunday morning. So, to everyone who's asked what I do all day in this new job, it's a very mixed bag of prayer and process, administration and conversation.  And to the people of Grace, thank you for making time for me to learn about your hopes for the future of the parish and for sharing what's important to you. I hope more of you will do the same.  At the heart of all of this work is a love for God's people and gratitude for all the miscellany and interruptions that come my way. So, keep them coming.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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