Here’s the short version: I hired a pastor to be the part-time custodian at our church.
I’ll spare you the administrative details; it’s part-time evening work so that there’s a staff person here in the evening when the building is heavily used by both church groups and community organizations. And then there’s always someone to lock up when it’s time to go home. Mostly normal cleaning stuff: emptying trash, vacuuming floors and cleaning bathrooms. Occasionally, there’s a tables and chairs set-up that needs to happen in preparation for the next morning.
When it was time for the interview, a well-dressed and articulate late middle-aged gentleman introduced himself with excellent English spoken with a heavy accent. I ushered him into a vacant office and introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Jim Honig. I’m one of the pastors on staff here.” I explained that in the absence of our Director of Parish Administration, I’d be conducting the interview, and invited him to call me Jim. He introduced himself, also inviting me to address him by his first name. And then immediately added, “I’m a pastor, too.”
Didn’t see that coming.
What I was thinking, but didn’t say out loud was, “Then why are you applying for this custodial position?” It didn’t take him long to get around to answering my question. He studied at a small seminary in Guatemala. He’s here on a visa that allows him to serve as a pastor. He serves a small hispanic congregation in one of the inner ring Chicago suburbs. His congregation rents space from another mainline congregation, and they can’t afford to pay him enough to support him. So he takes part-time jobs. Right now, he has a part-time job in the morning, does his pastor work in the middle of the day, and was looking for another part-time job for the evening. He likes to have the weekends open for his church work, especially a Friday evening men’s prayer meeting and Sunday worship.
When I described some of the cleaning he would be responsible for, he quipped, “This is no problem. I do the same thing in my church, except for free.”
I left that interview with strange swirl of humility, guilt, and gratitude. Is there such a thing as humuiltitude? I sometimes complain about some of the more frustrating aspects of my work, but overall, I recognize that I serve a wonderful congregation that is extraordinarily active and mission-minded. I work with a great group of people, both our professional staff and lay leaders. I am paid well for what I do, relatively speaking, and I don’t have to worry about finding an extra job to support my family. In fact, I enjoy a quality of life that I never thought I’d enjoy as a pastor. We live in our own home (ok, the bank still owns alot of it) in a very nice community. We can go out for dinner if we want, we take nice vacations, and were able to support our kids through college. We even have some savings and some money put away for retirement.
What’s more, I work in a place where the more mundane things (at least to me) are done by someone else, and I have the luxury of spending my time doing things that I am for the most part uniquely gifted to do. My grandfather was a pastor of a small congregation in rural Kansas. He didn’t have the kind of life or ministry that I enjoy. I think he loved what he did found his own reasons for joy and satisfaction in his vocation. And I also think that he had a harder life than I do. When we’d visit, I remember going over to church with him on Saturday afternoon when he’d run the bulletin on an ancient mimeograph and then Grandma and whatever grandkids happened to be around would help fold them all by hand.
I don’t have to fold bulletins. I don’t have to clean bathrooms or empty my own trash. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m above those kinds of tasks. It’s just that I have the luxury of being able to do other things.
So, I wonder if I would have the same dedication to my calling as my new colleague who will also be our new custodian. Do I love this work enough that I would do it even if I wasn’t paid and had to piece together part-time jobs to get by? Would I be willing to have another job and do this pastoring thing on the side, in the time leftover from another vocation? Honestly, I don’t know.
I know that around the world bi-vocational pastors are the rule, not the exception. I am the exception. And if the trends of attendance and membership in mainline denominations continue, there will likely be many more bi-vocational pastors right here.
Not infrequently, wonder, how it has happened that I am here doing what I do? I told a colleague recently that I’ve accidentally lived a good life. As with so much of life, there are no rational explanations. Yes, I acknowledge God’s goodness and guidance. My prayers are filled with gratitude. But my comfortable life is no particular sign of God’s goodness; my colleague’s God is just as good, even though my life is apparently much more comfortable. Like I said, no easy explanations. For now, I will do my work with an even greater sense of gratitude for where I am and what I get to do. And maybe, just maybe, we at Faith Church can somehow be a blessing and support for a pastoral colleague beyond providing a second job.