Thursday, May 30, 2013

Unlearning "Nice Little Priest" habits

One of the things that drove me batty about the seminary experience in the Anglican tradition and the clerical culture of Anglican priests in general is the penchant that many Anglican clergy have to give no offense to anyone about anything. We were taught not to offend anyone because we were constantly supposed to be “pastoral.”

“Being Pastoral” is one of those nice sounding buzzwords that clergy like to throw around. I found that many parishioners likewise expected their clergy to “be pastoral” as well, though no one could seem to coherently define the term in any useful sense. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know how well company, cultural, or churchy buzzwords and catch phrases sit with me: they cause an instant and immediate gag reflex. My mental processes go into what I call buzz-aphylactic shock like a reaction to a bad bee sting.
I realize most buzz words are usually founded or coined for some productive purpose initially. A company or a church needs a mission or vision or some reason or purpose for existing, and to focus that existential angst, church growth gurus and company HR management types come up with jingles or buzzwords. This is all well and good, particularly in churches, because churches do need a mission. Local ecclesial bodies that do not know why they are there other than “we’ve always done it this way” are just a short step from dwindling into oblivion.

I was always skeptical of the pressure from various church big wigs to get local parishes to adopt buzzwords or nebulous “mission statements,” which was all the rage a few years back. Now the buzzword is “being missional.” I was skeptical because the buzzword or mission statement seldom had any real substance and almost never gets at the real roots of the Christian mission or the lackadaisical pettiness or dysfunction that can infest local congregations.

For example, what exactly does a church that is “called to live into its baptismal covenant” really mean? Does that mean that a congregation is supposed to become two dimensional and jump into a page in the prayerbook like Alice stepping through a looking glass? How does a church or individual Christian actually go out and “be missional?” Ironically, my spell checker does not even recognize “missional” as a word, nor does my somewhat outdated college dictionary even list the word as an actual word. Again, the term sounds great and trendy, but when you actually start asking about how “being missional” or “living into the baptismal covenant” is actually achieved in any tangible checklist of items sense, you see the vacuous nature of such things.

Having fulfilled my need to occasionally rant, I come to the point of my blog entry. I am not saying that pastors or priests should be Oscars the Grouch in clergywear. They should certainly attempt to manifest the good news that they are called to proclaim. However, “being pastoral” often has become equated with how Oprah Winfrey used to interview people on her show: a constant touchy-feely, tear jerking, reach for the nearest Kleenex fest. There are times for tears, but there are also times for pastors to be assertive. There are even times that pastors are called to call people to account for their bad behavior. Sometimes that means not being nice about it. Sometimes that means actually talking about [gasp!]sin[/gasp!].

Despite my best efforts at avoiding the nebulously nefarious siren call to “be pastoral,” I have found in my new secular job that I have heretofore vicariously gotten sucked into being just that, despite my best efforts to the contrary. My boss told me yesterday offhandedly that I needed to sound more confident on the phone. Granted, I am still new at this job, and the learning curve has been steep. But I know the way I answer the phone in the office is the “being pastoral” part of me coming out.

Be nice or else people might not think you are a wimp pastoral.


The Underground Pewster said...

Being pastoral is easier when you are dealing with lambs than with when you are dealing with wolves. Unless of course you are Kevin Costner.

Matthew M said...

Hi Father (it is still 'Father' right?). It's been a while since I last posted on your blog. I guess I missed a few things....... so you moved to be closer to family, assist family, get away from it all.....?
Are you assigned to a parish? If so, which one?
Are you still 'discerning'?
You aren't in the tornado zone are you?
I do hope all is going well with you other than your secular job. I hope that gets better for you!
Be Well.