I talked to someone today who has a role in directing my future employment. (No names, of course.) He expressed a mild admiration for my way of dress, asked about the background of dressing Plain, and then the big question: “If a parish calls you, will you be willing to answer their questions about your appearance?”
If this were a matter of something I could not help – a scar, body size, disability or baldness – I would be very offended. I would be threatening employment discrimination action. But this is something I chose, and I chose it for a reason that would affect how my parish would interact with me.
I dress Plain as a Christian witness in the world, to discipline my own waywardness, and as a sacrifice to God. I can explain all that. And if a parish could not accept that, then I probably wouldn’t want to work there. We would not be close enough in our understanding of how God leads us to work together. Since Plain is a lifetime commitment, as far as I’m concerned, I need to be in an environment where people will make the effort to understand and accept.
I wanted to answer his question with honesty and integrity. I wasn’t going to say, “If they have a problem with it, I’ll take off the prayer cap and the cape dress and look like any other priest.” I could not, with integrity, say that in the hopes of ingratiating myself. I think it would have been a mistake, anyway, because the too-flexible answer would call all my convictions into question. Theere are some issues on which we must take a stand.
I was prepared for this pre-interview conversation with several months of prayer and consideration. I had decided to say that I would like to go back to rural parish ministry, even though I have considered working in team ministry or in a suburban parish with good resources.
But my heart is out in the fields and on the backroads to heaven. I work well with rural people, whether farmers, commuters or retired folk. I understand them and they understand me. I know what it is like to pick potatoes and deliver lambs. I’m strong and fit, still able to do manual labour day in and day out. I follow the seasons and don’t schedule important meetings for harvest time. I give dispensation to work on Sunday if the week has been rainy. I’ll help a neighbour find lost cows, or pick up hay and grain for a sick widow so she can feed her animals. I shovel manure. I understand planting by the moon cycles. I will prescribe herbal remedies for sick dogs and goats, or take someone’s injured cat home to nurse.
This is in addition to home visits, nursing home visits, hospital visits, barn visits and shop visits. I expect to do at least two services every Sunday, and teach confirmation classes. I preach a fifteen minute sermon most Sundays, but will preach less rather than natter on, and sometimes more if the congregation needs it. I don’t expect cathedral music when the available instruments are a concertina and a twelve-string guitar. I will lead a capella singing. I beleive in simple vestments and simple services.
I like potluck.
My weak points in ministry are that I hate meetings, will pass weddings along to retired clergy when I can, and I don’t always get the manure off my shoes before I go to someone’s house. (I’ll leave my shoes outside then.) I don’t procrastinate except about returning phone calls or email. (It’s best to catch me at home, since I will almost always answer the phone if I’m there.) I don’t keep office hours and I don’t publish a bulletin or a newsletter. I am not alwasy swayed by emotion, and I can be downright cynical. I may look like a bumpkin, but I’ve been out in the world and seen the worst parts of it. Things sometimes offend me, but nothing shocks me.
I don’t know, maybe these aren’t the best qualities for a parish priest. But that’s what I am, that’s what I do.