Things happen when you are a pastor; almost every week presents at least one scenario that in its–what is the right word?– banality, perhaps–confronts you square in the jaw with your own inadequacy.
For me, I could not do this job if I did not see this town as my parish; I consider anyone in this area my parishioner, not just the folks–dear to my heart–who worship Jesus Christ at Holy Redeemer.
One of the ways you can insure that this kind of extra-parochial ministry happens on a regular basis is to go places in a collar and loiter or just go places in a collar in general: run your errands in a collar, walk in a collar.
Jesus gets to encounter a lot of folks in their need or even curiosity or just plain doubt and anger when I make myself visible by wearing clerics; when I wear my uniform. Otherwise, I blend right in and no one knows that Christ is in their midst, unless perhaps my bible or prayer book are in front of me.
Another way to insure that I do not become focused only on serving the congregation is to volunteer with local hospitals and emergency services. This means you get calls to go to hospitals when folks are dying or facing a serious crisis.
It happens enough that wires get crossed–communications between departments in hospitals can sometimes be slow or imprecise. You respond to a call and by the time you arrive the patient is passed or taken away by the medical examiner or funeral home.
Today, a patient requested a priest. It did not seem urgent and I explained that I would not arrive until early evening. All of this was fine, according to the hospital contact.
An hour ago, I arrive at the room and it is empty, as though no one had been cared for in the space in weeks. You might know the look of such rooms.
Turns out, the patient had died before I was called to come see her, probably due to a delay, and she and the family members had departed hours before I arrived.
It’s funny but I always feel responsible–perhaps even negligent is not too strong a word–when I arrive and someone has already passed or been taken away, even when I have made efforts to arrive when requested. “You jerk…you weren’t here when you were supposed to be! You could have put off that phone call or not stopped for a drink.”
I’ll still say a prayer for the patient and the family. But tonight–as I was walking back to the parking garage–frustrated, kind of annoyed with the situation and myself–the Spirit reminded me that God was enough for this patient; that Christ holds the key to the grave and has made death now a way to life without end.
All is well and she is well and I am well and every manner of thing is well. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So we go on behalf of the Almighty because we are bidden, but bidden or unbidden God is always present. He is everyone’s sufficiency, whether we are present or not.