Monday, May 31, 2010

"I see you out walking your dog in the morning...."

About twelve years ago, when I moved here, I thought I was moving from the claustrophobic microscope of small-town living to a relatively anonymous life in the big city. The retired couple who lived across from the parsonage used to greet me in the morning with words like these: "Your light usually goes on at about 7:00 in the morning, but it didn't come on until 7:30 today. Is everything okay?" One day, at the post office, one of the farmers said, "I saw you leave town the other day and I thought your car was going to turn left, but it turned right. Where'd you go?" (As I was opening my mouth and trying to form words, another farmer interrupted, "She doesn't have to tell you where she's going." Bless him.)

Don't get me wrong. I loved this town and its people. They were, in many ways, an extremely gracious parish, a lovely place for a first call pastor to get her start. They greeted me when I arrived at the parsonage, helped me to unload my car and then left me to unpack in private. They knocked before entering. I never found them in the parsonage without my permission. But I was unused to the feeling that I got that people pretty much knew where I was at all times, knew which house the pastor lived in, could see my car come from a good distance away.

So imagine my surprise when, shortly after I returned to what I thought was big-city life, I was getting tickets to a movie with a date and the teenage clerk blurted out, "Aren't you the new pastor at Brand X Lutheran Church?"

I run into parish members, community leaders and neighbors regularly at the grocery store, as well as the Big Store with the Red Circles and other places of interest. Once, after Good Friday Tenebrae services, I ran into a couple from church at the grocery store. We greeted each other silently, I leaned in and whispered, "I think it's all right to talk now."

But I measure most of all my lack of anonymity by the people who tell me, "I see you out walking your dog in the morning." Maybe it's because in this particular case, they see me, but I never see them. I am blithely going along, getting in exercise and bonding time with Scout, while unbeknownst to me, I Am Being Watched. They don't wave to me. I don't notice them. But people know I'm around, in the community. And they feel compelled to tell me, "I see you out walking your dog in the morning."

I'm enough of a believer in the priesthood of all believers that I don't believe that I'm a "sign of God's presence in the community." The truth is, we're all that: each and every one of us mostly anonymous Christians. We're all signs of God's presence in the community. And, like a lot of God's signs, they are mostly small or invisible. The pastor walking her dog. The young woman next door who works with child protection. The teenager helping younger children learn to read. The older couple who have opened their home to young adults.

You never know where we are. But we're God's people, and we're on a lot of streets.

An inelegant postscript:
actually, upon thinking about it, I think I am a sign of God's presence in the world -- in particular as a pastor. Here's how: when you see me, you know there must be a congregation around somewhere. You know that God has called me to serve God's people in the world. Sometimes I happen to be more visible because I'm wearing a collar, or I'm standing up in front. But I'm a small visible sign of the presence of God's people, the ones who have called me to lead them, provoke them, listen to them, and equip them.


Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I really like this!

Fran said...

This made me tear up - in a good way.

Thank you Diane.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Nice reflection. I went the opposite way: from a city of 1 million to a town of 620. It did take some getting used to. We are both introverted, so I think it helps that we live off the road just far enough that people can't see our house from the road.

I find it so wonderful to get to know people in "three dimensions." Somebody isn't just the plumber, he is also in the church choir and also somebody's grandfather, for example.

It is a bit easier to be Christ to each other when we are able to see people as a whole than just as cardboard cutouts who play just one role in our lives.

Mompriest said...

I get the same thing - I'm out walking my dogs and parishioners see me but I rarely see them....and I agree with the priesthood of all believers...and how we're all called....thanks for this lovely reflection and the memories it brought back for me

怡伶 said...
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Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i'm glad you added your postscript... i get the walking the dog comment too... course in boonieville yup mostly everything is watched! hee hee

Unlikely said...

Thanks for the observations. You're pointing to something very true about ministry and how it's different and how you are treated differently in different places. The neighbors observations seem extreme; but the longer I'm in one place I also start to notice the little changes.
I've served in both the extremes of large metro area with some anonymity and a small town.
Now we're in an in between kind of place. A town of 10,000 where you know many folks; but not all.

Country Parson said...

I am one who grew up and lived for a good many years in suburban Mpls, then moved to NYC, but now live in a small community in the rural intermountain west. It's a curious thing, small town living. Oddly enough each neighborhood in NYC had a certain small town feel. We even got to recognize the "usual crowd" in Grand Central that "belonged" to "our" train. It was the commuter suburbs that seemed to offer the most anonymity. Having said that, I much prefer our small western town.