Saturday, January 22, 2011

He Knows His Place...

I once overheard a conversation in which several of the folks in the pew talked of their Pastor and described him as one "who knows his place."  At first this seemed a derogatory comment not unlike some I have heard from folks who have no high regard for the Office of Pastor or for those men who occupy that office.  But as I listened their conversation betrayed something far different from my first impression.  What I thought was an insult, proved to be the highest of compliments.

They went on to say that this Pastor had begun a degree program with thoughts of leaving the parish in order to teach in some university or seminary setting.  At some point in the program, he had abandoned plans to finish his work and receive the degree.  The decision was first occasioned by a health issue within his immediate family but when the time provided another opportunity, he had decided against it pursuing the degree and came to the conclusion that he was meant for the parish and not for the podium in college or seminary setting.  These folks were not being antagonistic to this decision but affirming it with their greatest compliment:  "He knows his place."

Having once entertained thoughts of academic greatness and equating success with students and publishing honors, I resonated with both the Pastor's choice and with the appreciation of his people.  Finding our place in this world is not only a sacred journey but, it seems, the pursuit of a world searching for a place to belong and fit in.  This Pastor learned where he belonged and found his place.  This was affirmed not by his own judgment but by the judgment and appreciation of the people he served.  It has been for me, as well.  When I found myself most uncertain about my future, the people I was serving shared with me their own certainty and confidence about where I belonged and what was my place.  I continue to be ever grateful for the folks in Cairo, New York, and the people now in Clarksville, Tennessee, who continue to help me know where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to do.

It is for this reason that I venture to places like Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the dead of winter.  There I taste a completely different atmosphere, amid colleagues and classmates whose calling has led in different directions than mine.  It is there I come face to face again with the choices I have made and come to terms with those choices.  It is there I see the other side of the fence and am encouraged again to believe that this is my place.

Sometimes it comes in the profound thoughts and sometimes it comes in the simple ones.  While singing Evening Prayer at the Seminary Chapel, I found it almost impossible NOT to sing the parts assigned to the one leading the office.  I mentioned this to a Pastor friend next to me and he admitted shared the same difficulty.  Ahhh, to know your place.  It is a gift from God, encouraged  by your own talents and abilities from God's gracious giving, focused by the people around you who often see what you do not, and affirmed in various ways throughout life.  And NOT for those in churchly vocations only but for all Christians who love and serve the Lord where they are, doing what God has called and equipped them to do in life, but as the fulfillment not simply of human decision but sacred vocation, springing from God's giving love and richest grace, and returning to Him in Christ as the fragrant offering and living sacrifice of the faithful...


Colleen Oakes said...

I would have shaken those people before I got the whole story. Good thing you are a bit more patient!

Anonymous said...

The ultimate question for every
pastor is this: "Where can I best
serve the Lord?" Whether you are
deliberating over a call to a new
parish or evaluating your current
options for ministry, it is important
to ask this question. We are in
the pastoral ministry to SERVE THE
LORD, not our professional career.
A mindset that wants to climb the
ladder to success instead of serving
the Lord with the gifts He gives us
will not be content.

Stuart Haase said...

"To know your place" It really is a blessing to find where you belong and doing what you truly love doing. I am learning this the hard way as a college student. I have set my mind on one thing, but there's about 2 or 3 other things I can see myself doing in life.