It is not always easy
In seminary we have been taught that in parish life we will sometimes find ourselves unpopular with parishioners, sometimes accused of being in the wrong and often examined under the spotlight. We were also taught that we will not always agree with other peoples views but as Episcopalians we are good at holding together different voices in a conversation. This is of course an important lesson and something that I have discussed with my classmates. I hoped that this preparation would have equipped me for when it would happen.
Recently it happened, twice in one day.
Pam and I were invited by a resident to meet with him and being eager to interact with as many people as possible we were only too willing to oblige. The resident was very pleasant but had no problems pointing out where we were going wrong. We both sat there listening respectfully and remaining present and attentive to the conversation. Inside my heart sank, for both of us.
Earlier in the day we attended an inter denominational worship service at the Villa. The pastor, from another denomination, is a dedicated minister filled with love for the residents. I have often disagreed with his theology but never enough to really feel that I needed to say something. I felt that we could agree to disagree. On that particular day however, I felt extremely uncomfortable about not saying something. The God that he was describing was not a God that I could associate with. After the service I purposely engaged in conversation with a resident to avoid speaking to the pastor.
So twice in one day, I wanted to speak out and correct someone and twice in one day, I sat back, quietly boiled inside and did not confront the situation. I wonder, am I a failure?
As I reflect on the meeting with the resident, I can answer with ease. No, I am not a failure. The resident had some valid points and it is good to learn from his experience. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow. I also think that he wanted to be heard, and to share his experience with others. He was not causing problems in the residents community. A slightly uncomfortable end to the day, but no harm done.
As for the theology of the other minister, I am torn. I am grappling with holding true that there are other viewpoints to my own and for some people the message would have been very meaningful. But, I believe in a loving and merciful God and not the God that was preached that morning. I do think that saying something in front of the residents would have been inappropriate. But maybe I should have spoken to him afterwards, I will certainly be reflecting on this more. This blog is a reflection on a journey, not a postcard from the terminus!
I always say that I don’t have the answers but the events of today are making me think – who am I? Both as an individual and as a future priest. What are my boundaries? Where do I draw the line?
I guess that is why they call it theological field education – it is a time for us to learn and to practice.
Thank you, Richard, for choosing to share yourself by speaking about situations which you experiencedbut about which you had questions about your behavior or lack thereof. It is always a temptation not to speak what needs to be said. To both the gentleman and to the minister. Certainly the time and the place and in front of whom and why I must carefully consider as you did. However, by not gently pointing out to the resident that perhaps there are different points of view I agreed through silence. I would have liked to have heard more: what exactly were you/Pam doing “wrong?” Why did he think that? Only you know why you should have introduced another point of view and how to do it with respect but also with clarity that you thought he was mistaken (or at least there was another point of view and why). With regard to the minister: that takes a little more thought. Especially if he addresses the residents on a regular basis.Regrettably, silence is often interpreted as tacit agreement. I find that I too regret the times in the past that I failed to speak up for lack of courage, for wanting to be liked or accepted or more reasons I can’t even put into words. If not to contradict, at least to offer another point of view. I have learned that before I speak, I pray, think, ask myself, “if I do speak, whose needs will be met? Am I speaking the truth in love or what is my deep motivation for speaking? Do I merely want to want to impress the other with my scholarship OR do I want to recognizefear, insecurity, etc. in the other?” Thank you for this authentic moment from your life with which I could easily identify. Alex The Rev. Dr. Alex NagyDirector of Theological Field EducationSchool for Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of San Diegoemail: firstname.lastname@example.org: 760 231-7345mobile: 760 576-7875car: 760 637-4422
Your post beautiful captured our new way of being. May we all continue to grow