Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Landing on My Feet or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I really wanted to do interim ministry. I knew I would be good at it for a lot of reasons. I got the training and completed a successful two year interim.

But this is the thing with interim ministry. There is this thing called "downtime" when there are no churches needing an interim and so there is no work. And if you are a single mother who has lived paycheck to paycheck your entire career, well down time can be pretty terrifying.

So this summer I went to work at Staples for my "down time". I came to hate hearing this time referred to as "down time". Down time sounds so relaxing and refreshing. There was nothing relaxing or refreshing about this time. They would often "forget" to give me my break and it was not unusual for me to be on my feet for five hours at a stretch without a break. Funny story. As part of my "Training" I had to watch a video about how bad unions are and how everyone gets along we don't need no stinkin union. All I know is that if I had a union rep, I'd sure as heck get my breaks when I was supposed to!

But back the term "Downtime” --Here are some other things pastors said to me during this time (and after) that I did not appreciate:

I worked at Staples at a relatively large town with a lot of ELCA churches and pastors around. Apparently a lot of ELCA pastors shop at Staples. Who knew? So a very strange dynamic would take place when they saw me. They would seem a little uncomfortable. It reminded me of right after my husband died and the couples our age we hung out with didn't really want to be around me. Because I reminded them of what could happen to them.

I think seeing me in my bright red staples shirt made pastors uncomfortable because I reminded them of just how insecure our jobs really are. They could be wearing a red shirt themselves. Actually they would be lucky to get this job.

So in their discomfort they would say stupid things to me the way, in their discomfort, people say stupid things to people in grief. Pastors know better than to say stupid things to people in grief. But they don't really know what to say to other pastors in red Staples shirts.

"Oh I think I would enjoy a little down time like you are getting" No, I'm pretty sure you would not enjoy being on your feet 7 hours all day, then having to clean the bathrooms before you can go home at night (Speaking of which, there is nothing like cleaning a public men's bathroom to really destroy your faith in humanity.)

"Oh I bet you are collecting a lot of sermon material” Um, no. Not so much. Not much material in sorting pens. A couple of funny stories to tell at dinner about stupid rude angry customers, perhaps, but a sermon? Nope.

And the line that really annoys me the most... "Oh I think it is good for us [sic] to do work like this every once in a while so we [sic] can see how real people live.

Okay let me rant about this ridicules statement for a while. WE??? Someone with a call says to ME, on leave from call making 8.25 an hour says how good this is for US??? And secondly...I grew up poor with a single mother. I know how real people live; probably a lot better than the pastor telling me how good it is for "us" to have this experience. I did farm work, cutting asparagus in the early morning before going to school when I was 14 years old. I worked my way through college and seminary doing everything from cleaning houses, waitressing, and receptionist and was even a church secretary. My husband and I raised our kids on my far less than synod guidelines salary alone because we didn't want daycare workers raising our children. I know how "real people" live, thank you very much. I was very grateful to get the Staples job because it was a lot easier and more interesting than a lot of other jobs I could have had and it helped me pay my bills during my "down time" but no it was not a lark or Sabbatical to learn how the other half lives and it was really really difficult for me to keep temper when anyone said that to me.

This is what people said to me that I did appreciate. "Joelle I know you have a lot more to offer the church and I am praying that you will get that opportunity soon". I did have a lot of people praying for me and that meant and means a lot. I know many of you who are reading this were praying and I thank you for that.

All of this is not to say that I regret this past summer because I don't. It’s one of those experiences I would not care to relive or repeat but I a glad I had it. I especially appreciate it now that it is over. I have been called and begun to serve the Northeastern Iowa Synod as Director or Evangelical Mission. And I am very excited about the position. It's an odd position in that I am actually paid by the ELCA and am considered deployed staff but I work for and answer to my synod bishop. Our synod is doing a lot of cutting edge stuff. We have a great staff that I could not be more tickled to be part of. I am going to have to stop saying shit and damn and hell and pissed off. And forgitabout the f word. So I could still use some prayers in that transition.

So stay tuned as the adventure continues.