I happen to be in love with Mitch Albom’s books. I read Tuesdays with Morrie awhile back and (being the gateway drug that it is) that lead to The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Now I am on to Have a Little Faith, and I am in love, of course. Maybe it’s too early to decide such matters as love, but I’ve been told when you know you know, and boy do I know. Every chapter has been laced with something that I feel like I could expound upon something that I could chew on. So I will probably do an entire series of blog posts on this book as I try in vain to not read it too fast (I mean really it’s only 249 tiny pages, I could read that in a night). A bit of back story to catch you up to where this blog post meets the book. Mitch (it’s based on a true story) has been asked to do the eulogy for his Rabbi at the church he’s been attending since he was a child. Here’s an excerpt that I would like to share.
“Besides, how much do you know about your religious minister? You listen to him. You respect him. But as a man? Mine was as distant as a king. I had never eaten at his home. I had never gone out with him socially. If he had human flaws, I didn’t see them. Personal habits? I knew of none….”
I think perhaps I live in a very interesting place in the church. Through Wesley I have become well connected in the UMC world here in Rock Hill. I know many of the leaders by name, I have watched their kids and fed their cats. I feel though that many church members might have a similar experience to Mr. Albom (I could also be crazy). Before I was a part of Wesley, I had never had a significant relationship with or knowledge of any of my religious leaders at churches past. I had seen them up on the pulpit, greeted the before or after service. But I didn’t know him. In the next ‘chapter’ (it’s not really a chapter, more like a heading separating thoughts) he talks about going to the Rabbi’s house and how though things were very normal (he lived in a house with a doorbell, and was wearing sandals and bermuda shorts) it all struck him as odd. “Where else could he live? A cave?” I wonder what I used to think about my pastors. I feel like though this experience may be common it shouldn’t be the case. Our leaders are just as much a part of our community as our friends are, and what is a pastor but a learned friend?
I have come to know during my many years at Winthrop Wesley the father of my boss, Tim McClendon. Tim happens to be the District Superintendent for one of the districts of the Methodist Church in the South Carolina conference. At first this was a very formal relationship. He would ask me about school, I about the family–you know, typical acquaintance speak. Then something happened. I grew closer to the family and I had more encounters with this pious man of God only to realize on a mission trip to Nicaragua that he is quite possibly the silliest man I have ever met. I work with college students all day, and yet this much older man is the silliest person I’ve met–that’s saying something. He is so personable, goofy, and caring. These things help me respect him and his thoughts more. Doesn’t knowing a person do that? He thinks it’s important to know people, and he is by no means “up there” with the rest of us residing “down here” lower than the almighty Tim McClendon. I happen to know that we can’t leave him alone in Wesley, he will break something. He likes diet coke, loves his grandkids, is a diabetic, can swing a mean pick axe, and he is also has the deepest love for God that I have ever witnessed. It is so far removed from the relationship that Mr. Albom has with his Rabbi, and I think these kinds of realtionships are soooo important. His son, also a UMC preacher, has these days where he has “lunch with Preach”. Knowing our clergy folks in a personal way, I think, is so super important. You see that they have “human flaws” (as do we all), trials, you get to know the person, while knowing that your learned friend is there to help you through you crisis in a very specific way. The clergy folks in my life that I have relationships with help me find the good and light even when I’m not looking for it. They help through a crisis and a volleyball game.
I am so fortunate to know the entire McClendon/Jeter family, and to call them friends. I submit to you both a challenge and a question. I challenge you to draw closer to your clergy leaders. Take them to lunch, or buy them coffee and maybe you will find a human in your pulpit next Sunday instead of some unreachable man/woman of God. And I want to know what your relationship is currently with your clergy folk of any denomination or religion?