As the bishop continued his call, the parson continued his travel down Memory Lane.
Strange, the parson seldom agreed with anything this bishop did. The parson didn’t particularly like his theology. Nor did he like the bishop’s administrative style. Often the parson felt the bishop was surrounding himself with empty suits who told the bishop what the bishop wanted to hear.
Strange, as much as the parson was the opposite of the bishop on so many things, as much as the parson disagreed with the bishop’s style, he somehow found himself delighted to be sitting at the table with him. In fact, when the bishop had greeted him the parson was genuinely filled with joy. The parson mulled it over in his mind.
Then, it came to him. When the parson had been taken to the hospital for open heart surgery this bishop was beside his bed when he woke. When the parson had surgery on his carotid artery, this bishop, while in another state, called him several times to check on him. When the parson’s wife died, this bishop was on the phone to him within an hour and had the check for funeral expenses delivered to the parson within three hours. A few weeks later this bishop stopped by the parson’s church to make sure the parson knew people cared.
Funny, this bishop, so misguided in his theology to the parson’s mind, so heavy handed in his episcopacy to the parson’s view, was the parson’s pastor. The parson remembered telling a younger pastor that being a good pastor was ninety percent presence.
The bishop concluded his call. He put the phone in his pocket. “Sorry, for the interruption,” he said. “One of my pastors is having a hard time of it.” He reached across the table, touched the parson's hand and said, "I wish I could have been there for you when Ms. Parson passed. Tell me about her."
The parson smiled as he said a silent prayer that someday one of his parishioners would be as happy to see him as he was to see this bishop.
This post should be read in conjunction with the previous one.
The parson smiled at the memory of this bishop, now ordering breakfast from the server, appointing him to his current church. At the same time memories of other interactions and such flooded the parson’s mind.
Way back in the last century, shortly after this man across the breakfast table, had been elevated to the episcopacy, a pulpit came open. The parson did not know what factors led to the decision, but this brand new rookie bishop appointed the parson to that church. It was his first appointment as a bishop. In some peculiar way it bonded the two. About eighteen months later the church paid off its debt on a new building and this bishop dedicated it. It was the first building he’d dedicated.
The bishop’s cell phone rang. He looked down at the phone and asked the parson to excuse him. It was a call he needed to take.
The parson continued to travel down the hallway of memory as the bishop talked to some official. The parson remembered the time the bishop had called him and asked, “Parson, if “The Church Beside the Park In the Big City” came open would you be interested in becoming the pastor? The parson smiled at his remembrance of how ludicrous the question was. Why would a bishop call him with such a hypothetical question? The parson told him he’d be open to this. The bishop said he’d get back to him.
A week later the bishop called back. He instructed the parson to inform his people he was moving to “The Church Beside the Park In the Big City.” The bishop asked the parson if he wanted to know what the salary was. The parson said, “That wasn’t necessary. He’d go where he was sent.” The bishop complimented the parson on his attitude. The parson refrained from telling the bishop the earliest memory in his life was crawling up the steps in the Education Building of “The Church Beside the Park In the Big City.” Nor did he tell the bishop that church had been his grandmother’s church.
“I think this church will be a good match for you,” said the bishop.
The parson took a few days off and headed for another city a few states away. The parson’s son’s dance company was performing there. The son traveled around the globe a couple of times each year, and a few states away provided an opportunity for the two to get together.
It was this occasion that brought the parson to the restaurant in the hotel early in the morning. He was enjoying a tremendous breakfast as he read the news on his Chromebook.
“Parson,” called the voice, “how have you been?”
The parson looked up. Then he slammed the Chromebook shut and bounced to his feet. Before him stood a bishop under whom he’d served for over a decade. “Bishop,” proclaimed the parson. “How are you? You had surgery recently.”
“I’m fine, Parson. Really good. I got your card; and I appreciated it. Sit down. May I join you?”
The parson motioned toward the chair opposite his place. The bishop sat and as the
“The question, Parson, is how have you been; I mean how have you been since you lost Ms. Parson?”
“I’m getting back on track,” the parson replied. “It was tough for a while, but I’m back together for the most part.”
“I hope so,” the bishop said. “And how’s that church you’re serving?”
The parson’s memory drifted back to the day he’d signed his papers for retirement. He’d stepped into the hallway at the denomination headquarters as the bishop stepped from the conference room across the hall. The bishop had grabbed the parson by the arm and asked him what town he was moving to. When the parson told him, the bishop’s eyes opened wide and he asked the parson if he’d supply the pulpit at the church the parson was now serving. The parson informed him that in the 1970s he been the pastor of that church. The bishop’s shoulders drooped in disappointment. He turned to walk away. About fifty feet down the hall, the bishop turned back and shouted to the parson walking in the opposite direction, “Wait, did you say the 1970s?” The parson nodded. “Well, hell,” said the bishop, “everybody who hated you back then is dead.”
My profession calling presents one with interesting encounters. And so it was a few weeks ago.
I was sitting in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Atlanta, I had taken someone there for a post-op evaluation. The person I’d taken had been in the doctor’s office, or maybe the X-ray department, or maybe in the lab, gracious knows where, for a while. I had my technological wonder called the Google
Chromebook in my lap. I was working away on next Sunday’s sermon.
I was in the middle of a moment of joy. I’d just searched the internet to find a really great illustration of my third point of the sermon. I was in the process of copying and pasting that illustration into my “notes” page when the voice interrupted me.
“Excuse me,” he said. I looked up and beheld a man in his late thirties. He was well dressed, with a decidedly professional look. He asked me if I was a pastor and named my church. I confessed I was guilty. “Oh, my goodness,” he said, “I visited your church a while back.”
I stared at his face, desperately seeking some recognition. It didn’t come. “I’m sorry,” I said, “did we meet?”
“Oh, no,” he replied, to my relief, “I was with the Jenkins’ family and we left by the side door. I didn’t get a chance to speak to you then.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to greet you,” I replied. “I hope the next time you come I’ll be able to do so.”
“Maybe next year,” he said. “Our family, the Jenkin’s, are getting together for another reunion. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to attend a worship service.”
“I’d be pleased if you would,” I said.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” he said.
“Not at all,” I replied.
“Do you actually believe all that stuff?”
“All what stuff?”
“All that stuff you preach?”
“Everything I preach I believe,” I replied.
He stared for a long moment. His right hand went to his head where he ran his fingers over the hair above his right ear. He started to say something. He paused. He started to speak again. He paused. “Excuse me,” he finally continued, “but that sounds like there are some things you don’t preach.”
“Some things I don’t preach,” I replied.
He asked, “Do you mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all,” I said, pointing to the chair next to me.
He sat. He continued to look at me. “I don’t mean to be intrusive,” he continued, “but when you say there are some things you don’t preach, may I ask what you don’t preach?”
I couldn’t help but size him up. It was a strange conversation. He’d been at my church; he’d heard me preach. But I didn’t know him. I stepped out in faith.
“What I do not preach,” I said, “are the things I don’t understand.”
He turned back and focused his eyes on mine. “So what do you preach?” he asked.
“I preach the things I do understand.”
Once again he looked away in contemplation. Eventually he turned back. He looked me directly in the eyes. “What do you understand?” he asked.
“Oh, I understand things like, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” There was a silent moment. “But I need to confess something to you,” I said.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Sometimes,” I replied, “I just don’t want to do it.”
“Hey, parson,” called Ed, the second-career pastor who’d just started at Wholesome Valley Church of the Wildwood Beside the Dried-up Creek.
“Well, morning to you, Ed,” called the pastor. “How are things down in the valley?” Before Ed could answer the parson invited him into the diner for a cup of coffee. Entering the small eatery, the parson called to the server, “Janet, would you bring us some coffee, please?”
“Sure thing, parson, have a seat.”
The parson already had. “So, you were about to tell me how things are the church are going,” the parson said to Ed.
“To tell you the truth, parson,” said Ed, “I didn’t realize being a pastor was going to be like this.”
Janet brought the coffee. The parson sipped his. “What’s it like, Ed?”
Ed paused a moment while he put cream into his coffee. He, too, took a sip before speaking. Finally, he said, “It really boring, parson.”
“Boring? You think this is boring?”
“There’s just not much to do. You know when I was on the road as a manufacturer’s rep every day was interesting. But here, I just don’t have anything to do. I write one sermon a week. I have to prepare the bulletin. Occasionally, there’s a meeting of some kind, but usually there’s just nothing to do.”
The parson listened patiently as Ed spoke of no one calling him. He lamented the church was small and not growing. He wondered how long he was going to have to stay at this appointment.
By the time Ed’s bewail was over the parson had finished his coffee. Janet, noticing it, walked over. “You want another cup, parson?”
“I’d love one, Janet, but I’ve got some things to do.” The parson handed Janet some cash and rose to leave. Ed followed his lead.
Outside, on the sidewalk, the parson turned to Ed and said, “Ed, let me tell you a story.”
"Some college students were in their first class. The class was one on emotional extremes. The professor wanted to get the parameters of the course established. Looking down at his roll, he called out, 'Mr. Jones, what is the opposite of joy?'
"'I guess the opposite of joy is sadness,' said Jones.
"'That’s right. Now, what’s the opposite of depression, Ms. Barnes?'
"Ms. Barnes was quick to answer, 'Elation.'
"'That’s correct, also,' said the professor. 'Now, Mr. Jenkins, what’s the opposite of woe?'
"Jenkins, sitting in blue jeans in the back of the class, pondered a moment and then replied, 'The opposite or whoa is giddy up!”"
The parson patted Ed on the back and said, “You really need to get rid of your whoas, Ed.”
The parson arrived at the church for his daily visit. His study was not at home, but each day he headed to the church. Other than Sunday there were only two reasons he visited the church. The lesser of the two was to pick up the mail, discard the junk, and place particular pieces in the boxes set aside for different church officers or volunteers. The major of the two was to feed Iglesia, the church cat. And Iglesia was particular about this chore. If the parson arrived at 11:30 a.m., he was allowed to pick her up and pet her. Failure to arrive later than that would result in Iglesia sitting off at a distance denying any exchange of affection.
As the parson pulled up to the mailbox he noticed a car in the church parking lot. It was not an unusual thing. People often used the church as a rendezvous point. He pulled up to the front of the building after retrieving the mail at the street. Being on time, Iglesia bounded up the steps beside him. The parson settled himself on the porch’s bench seat. The church cat promptly jumped into his lap, turned over on her back and rewarded him with the privilege of rubbing her belly and after a few moments turning over to allow another privilege of scratching her back. Having allowed the parson his moments, she jumped from his lap and loudly meowed. The parson understood. He walked to the corner of the porch and opened the sealed containers to retrieve some food and water, which he then put into her bowls. Having achieved her goals, Iglesia then dismissed the parson until the next day and began to savor her meal.
The parson smiled. He inserted the key into the church door and entered the vestibule. As he was about to step into the sanctuary, something made him peer through the small window in the door.
She was in the second pew from the altar on the left. Her hands were folded together on the top of the pew in front of her. The parson stood transfixed. For weeks she’d been coming to the parson to discuss her problems. She didn’t have a church home. She’d never attended church. The parson had not pushed her about that. The counseling had been hard for her. Facing demons is a scary thing.
The parson put his hand on the door and was about to open it. Iglesia meowed on the porch. The parson paused. Something jumped inside him. He didn’t open the door. He turned and walked out. Iglesia arched her back inviting him to scratch once more, perhaps a thank you for the food.
The parson scratched her, rose, picked up the mail he’d left on the bench, turned to look at the door. The parson pondered a moment. How did she get into the church? She wasn’t a member. She didn’t attend any church. She had told the parson she wasn’t a Christian.
“Did you let her in?” the parson asked Iglesia. She rubbed against his leg, bounded up onto the wall that bordered the porch and then jumped into the shrubs to disappear until 11:30 a.m. tomorrow.
The parson reached for the car door, paused, turned around and headed up the steps again. He paused halfway. He turned to walk back to the car and drive home realizing she’d found a much better counselor.
It was one of those kind of days. The kind of day that frequents my neighborhood this season of the year. The morning was chilly, but not too chilly. The first caress of the air encouraged the wearing of a jacket or sweatshirt or such. Then the sun rose more fully; the chill diminished; the covering was peeled away.
Halfway through the morning we hiked across a field, sweatshirt tied about our waist. There was a promise of temperatures later reaching the seventies. The body hinted at the beginning of a sweat. Then we moved into the forest, down a trail covered with a canopy of tree limbs. The shade conspired with the coolness to produce shivers. Sweatshirts again covered the torso.
“This is really cool,” she said as she led the way, pointing to this feature and that. “This is really cool.” Suddenly she stopped, quickly whirled around with her index finger to her lips. The finger left her lips and the hand formed the classic “Stop!” command. I stopped. Slowly the commanding hand formed into a fist but with the index finger extended to direct my attention to a spot fifty yards away where the mother deer stood with her fawn. Again I was silently commanded to stay still; then, to squat alongside her. “Don’t move!” was whispered
I kept quiet. I didn’t move. How could I? This ten-year-old had just commanded the seventy-two year old to squat. I can still squat on command. But once there, I’m there. She watched the deer. I pondered how I was going to stand back up. While considering the options I slowly raised my phone and took several pictures.
The wind shifted. The mommy deer stuck her nose into the air. She sniffed and sniffed again. She and the fawn bolted up the hill until the white of the tails were but pinpoints disappearing into the shrubs.
She jumped up. I sort of fell to one side, placed my hands on the forest floor, and rolled to a standing position. “Oh my, did you see that? She was beautiful. Her baby was so cute. Give me the phone and I’ll text those pictures to Mom. She won’t believe I was that close to those deer.”
The trail started down into the canyon. The deeper we got the more the chill. A longing for another sweatshirt accompanied me. “Are we going all the way to the bottom?” I told her we were. “Great,” she said. “This is cool.”
Before we reached the canyon’s floor she heard the rushing water. “Is that a waterfall?” I told her it was. “Come on. Let’s hurry.” I told her the waterfall had been there for thousands of years and would be there when we got to the bottom. “Okay,” she said, “but I’ll run ahead a little bit. Don’t worry. I’ll wait for you.” I told her to me sure she followed the trail’s blaze marks. “I know; I know. Follow the yellow marks.”
Reaching the bottom, I realized down here it was even more cool. She was sitting on a rock ten feet out into the pond, bare feet in the water, staring at the stream cascading over the cliff in front of her. I was more aware of the spray now dampening my sweatshirt.
“This is so cool,” she said. I instead looked up to the canyon’s rim. She was so cool I had not considered we’d have to hike back up.
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