Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Behind the Curtain

When I first began seminary, I spoke of "peeking behind the curtain" -- those times when I would get glimpses into the world of being a minister, not from the audience side, but from the minister side.

As I've progressed, I have been nurtured by several ministers, UU and otherwise, who have allowed me greater access behind the curtain, in order to further my formation.

I still have a toe outside the curtain, so there's a few things I want to whisper with all of us non-ministers, about that secret world of clergy.

My brother recently brought my otherwise calm father to absolute apoplexy by remarking that he thinks people pretty much turn out the way they will, no matter what the parent does.  (My brother is child-free.)

My father sat listening to him, fury no doubt rising, until finally he couldn't stand it anymore.  "REALLY?  Well, that's just great. All those nights I couldn't sleep, tossing and turning, trying to figure out what the right thing to do was, how I was going to afford things you needed, how to reach you and teach you, all that heartache and stress ... and none of it mattered. You would have turned out the same had I just shrugged and let you be."

Well, there's a whole lot of that in ministry. A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of praying and soul-searching.  Am I fulfilling my call?  God, am I doing what you entrusted me to do? Am I providing opportunities for transformation, for healing, for nurturing? Are my people stronger now, or just tireder and poorer? What am I missing? Who am I missing?

They make mistakes. And it rips them apart. And they can't lean on us. Because they are there to minister, not to be ministered to. They live knowing how very expendable they are. And that it must be that way.

We hear the stories of arrogant ministers, confident in all that they do. But I have seen ministers, so very aware of their human fraility. When no one else is around, tears fall.

The stole is not so much a distinction of honor as it is a yoke of responsibility, sometimes even a heavy chain of commitment and requirement. Heavy hangs the stole.

Perhaps you feel I am aggrandizing a world that I seek to join. I don't think so.

I'm just reporting what I saw when I peeked behind the curtain.


Lilylou said...

Thanks for saying this, LE. Hardly anybody knows it, except those who have a peek behind the curtain.

Amy said...

Sounds right to me, LE. And, like your dad, I think what we do does make a difference to our congregations and organizations and communities.

We are creating too much of a mystique if it seems so rare to peek behind the curtain. Yes, some of what happens in ministry must remain confidential, and a minister can't share every doubt and late-night agony with her congregation (it would not serve them well!), but there's really no big secret. At least, if someone was supposed to tell me the password during my ordination, they forgot. It's just that, like every other profound experience, you kind of have to be there to totally get it.

Amanda Udis-Kessler said...

This is profoundly helpful; thank you. I am a relatively new seminarian and while I have suspected this, it is really good to have it confirmed in this way. Thank you for your gentle, gracious, and inspiring blog.