Editor’s Note: Even though this Clergy Project member writes very well, it’s sometimes hard for me to revisit his past melancholy and conflicted days as a Methodist minister. Please read this thoughtful piece and offer your own thoughts about his predicament. I will say, that it’s quite a relief to know that he’s finally out of it. Hopefully clergy still in similar positions can see from this that change is possible. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By David Mercer
I wrote this several years ago when I was still a preacher and I published it in my anonymous blog, Clergy Guy. Maybe it will help some understand more about real ministers.
I was at a ministers’ meeting feeling grumpy because I didn’t want to be there. I sat at a table with colleagues who didn’t want to be there either. I didn’t know them all, but I could see they were all ministers. Trust me, we recognize each other.
However, there was one man at the table whom I was sure was not a minister, although he was dressed like one with his dark suit and tie. He looked a little like most of us, too–big, overweight, with that indefinable quality of oddness we persons of the cloth often possess. But he wasn’t one of us, no matter how much he looked the part. I can’t tell you how I knew that, but I did. Trust me, we recognize each other.
After a few minutes, he leaned over to me and gestured toward the rest of the room where hundreds of other ministers were gathered.
“All these people sit with their classmates from seminary.” he said. “It happens at all these events. They only talk to people in their class. You ever noticed that?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Oh, it’s true,” he assured me.
No it wasn’t but I didn’t argue.
“I notice things like that,” he said importantly, “I’m a people watcher.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yeah. It’s kind of my hobby. When my wife makes me go to the mall with her, I’m never bored. I just watch all the people go by. It’s very entertaining.”
I smiled and nodded just as if I was interested. I didn’t like him. What was this guy doing here?
I looked at a friend sitting across from me. He was a high mileage minister like me who, also like me, had eschewed the conventional coat and tie for this event. He’s goofy and quite outrageous in a softspoken manner, but he still has the pastor’s presence–that carriage of caring authority. Other ministers, who were better dressed than him or me, sat on either side of him. We like to be around him because he makes us laugh. Not the fake life-of-the-party kind of laugh that we use at church socials, but the helpless belly busting laughter that sad ministers don’t get enough of.
He’s sad, too, because like the rest of us, he struggles to run a church, arbitrate ludicrous conflicts, raise money, and attract new members, while all the time he is aware that his real job is to calm the turmoil in others, comfort the grieving, and sit with the dying. Another reason for his sadness is that like the rest of us, he feels inadequate for the job.
You see, unlike him, we don’t watch people. We watch over people. We watch for the ones who need rescue. We see the wounds and try to heal them. It’s hard work with a high failure rate, and it’s rarely entertaining. But it’s the real work that we squeeze in around the committee meetings, training seminars, building campaigns, and potluck socials.
Inside, I sneered at this guy who watches people. But now that I’m alone and have time to process, I think about what he really said to me.
He watches people who don’t see him and perhaps like me they are irritated when he insists on being noticed.
Yesterday he sat, invisible again, in a room of hundreds of ministers. He was dressed the same as everyone else, but wasn’t really one of us and he thought he had an explanation:
I’m not in their class.
Sigh. He was one of those that I’m supposed to be watching for and he was right next to me.
Like I said. High failure rate. Inadequate for the job.
**Editor’s Questions** What do you make of this guy at the ministers’meeting and what do you make of the writer’s reaction to him and his description of a minister’s life?
Bio: David Mercer, aka “Stan Bennett,” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentary, Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion. David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia. David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic. He is a life coach, a teacher, and a storyteller. He is the author of the blog Deep Calls. You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook. This essay is reposted with permission.
>>>>Photo credits: By Nehrams2020, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2653022