We stepped up to the desk and the attendant gave instructions about the pre-op procedure, the location of the waiting room, restroom, vending machines and what to expect over the next few hours. She informed the wife and son of our church member heart patient that after he was dressed and ready for surgery, “two family members at a time will be allowed in to see him.” Then, she looked at me, and said, “Clergy don’t count. You can go, too.”
I thought I understood what she meant by “don’t count,” but I appreciated the clarification!
I’ll have to admit that in the changing culture, I’ve sometimes felt that I did not count, that what I do doesn’t matter all that much. I don’t invent or produce any widgets, whose market value propels the all-important economy. I don’t buy and sell commodities, whose imaginary value boosts the Dow until a sale morphs that virtual share into actual cash dollars. I don’t entertain or shock or run fast or throw a ball or represent one of those personalities whose visibility on the ubiquitous tube captivates so much of our collective attention.
I don’t count. I have had that feeling.
(As an aside: I mostly don’t feel this among African-American friends and acquaintances. It’s not that I need to be an authority, to be in authority. It’s not that my fragile feelings get hurt without some padding of my ego by use of a title or some obvious deference. It’s just an observation. I don’t know what it means; I do know there is a noticeable difference in the kind of recognized respect I carry in certain communities.)
But, back in my mostly-white, mostly-affluent, increasingly-secular world, I have had that feeling….
Then came Nov. 8.
Who would know that the most contentious election in memory, the elevation of one of the most unconventional and divisive characters in presidential history to the highest office in the land, would give preachers a boost in confidence and a little more hope for the future of the profession?
The young couple joined our church just over a year ago and were showing all those signs pastors love, like actual enthusiasm for church, actual participation in programs, actual attendance in worship! And they got pregnant (church growth lives!), and they announced a new job would take them an hour away. We grieved the news, have felt their absence, so when they showed up the Sunday after the election, along with his parents, it was such a delightful surprise. “What brings you back to town?” I asked, excitedly. It was his mother, who had come to know our brand of church, our stances for social justice, our preaching, who responded, “We really needed a good word today. We knew we could count on getting one here.”
Wow. Maybe I do count.
Maybe preaching actually counts, too. It’s an odd thing, you know, people in the most technologically connected world there has ever been, people who can get “all the news that’s fit to print,” and a lot that’s not, people who can find every opinion, the words of every living expert, the wisdom of every dead visionary, all right there, at your fingertips — some of those people still need to come sit for an hour, a central portion of which is given to old-fashioned listening.
The sermon lives.
We’ve heard it more than once in the last few weeks, that need for a good word, that hunger for the confidence of faith, the comfort of hope, the convictions of love that good preaching must offer. It’s nice to know the spoken word still matters to some.
It’s a responsibility and a privilege I have never taken lightly — but it was a bit easier when I thought it didn’t count!