One of the Facebook groups I belong to is “Things I didn’t learn in Seminary;” the purpose is pretty self-explanatory. What isn’t so obvious is the wild and wooly things that clergy are called upon to do. While seminary / theological school may prepare you for preaching, pastoral care, education, and leadership (to name a few), it’s generally woefully inadequate for training up the leader of a small congregation where he or she is typically the first person the congregation turns to when the toilet backs up, contracts need to be negotiated, budgets have to be balanced, or the photocopier is jammed. Today’s clergy are multi-taskers, Jacks and Jills of all trades.
I was reminded about this recently as the church lawn was crowded with kids trying to cool off in the feeble spray of the sprinkler. As part of our community engagement (and a useful source of rent income) we share our building with lots of different groups – one of which is a dance studio who also runs a summer camp for kids. What could be more summery than kids running through the sprinkler, right? Well, not if the sprinkler is more of a dribble: the result is hot kids and a frustrated camp leader. And, being on site (writing a sermon, as it happens) and the only staff person, the camp leader naturally came to me with a plea for help.
I checked the faucet, I checked the inside shut off, I checked the main valve. All ok. I then looked at the hose: about 75 feet coiled up on the reel, and 20 or so on the ground to the sprinkler. Not much happening. I then began to uncoil the hose, finding kink after kink after kink; as I unbent each one, a little bit more water came through the sprinkler, and a little more cheering erupted from the kids. With the hose all unwound, the kinks all unbent, and the kids all wet, I joined them for a couple of runs through the spray to cool off. Soggy high fives all around!
A father of one of the kids came by (as I stood there all wet) and told me he was so impressed by our church – the openness, the programs like this kids camp, the way it’s become a place for the community. I thanked him, and confessed that the camp wasn’t “ours,” but run by one of our community partners (such a nicer term than tenant, I think). He patted me on the back and said, “That’s exactly what I mean, you’re making space for stuff like this, and we love it.”
I posted this to the Facebook group – adding to the growing list of things clergy are called upon for that are not taught at seminary: working out the kinks of a simple problem that is not obviously theological but is still God’s work. I don’t expect I’ll ever see that father or his daughter in church on a Sunday any time soon – but who knows, the Spirit moves in mysterious ways. And whether they do or don’t, that’s not the point: they and I have encountered the Holy together on the church lawn.
Even in the solving of a minor plumbing problem such as a kinked hose, God opens the door for us to one another and the world. Perhaps “Plumbing as Evangelism” could be offered in seminary, along with “Theological Significance of Kitchen Prep and Clean Up.” Look for them in your next con-ed calendar!
—Dan Benson is minister at St. Paul's United Church in Scarborough, ON.