With my retirement date dead ahead, I find myself waxing nostalgic. My nostalgia is not so much emotional as it is the remembrance of the amazing people I have met on my journey as well as recalling moments of enlightenment. Until that BIG day when I hang up my robe and stole, my weekly posts will highlight those who have made my race worth running and a few of my God-Moments as well.
Ledyard and West Genoa, New York
January 1, 1985 to June 30, 1985
Little did I know that when I hooked up with the Sub-Bishop for lunch that I would leave the table appointed as pastor of two small churches in Upstate New York. Even more bewildering was that I had absolutely no clue as to what to do or say. Up until that point in my life, I could talk a little about economics and a lot about marketing stainless steel. My religious resume consisted of regularly attending church on Sunday, providing it did not interfere with my tee time.
My first Sunday at my two churches was a nightmare. I was a wreck. My sermon lasted about 6 minutes and consisted of a story about a business trip to Chicago that I somehow (creatively?) linked to a Bible verse. Adding the singing of three hymns, praying a prayer and losing control of the kids during the children’s time, the entire service lasted less than ½ hour. I was relieved that I was able to pull it off and my flock was overjoyed that the service was brief.
After a few Sundays, I slowly got the hang of it. With the help of some resources belatedly provided by the Sub-Bishop and relying on my love for telling stories, some of the more critical people indicated that I might (MAYBE??) have a future in the church. Even more importantly, I liked being a pastor and I loved the people. After six months, the “Powers-That-Be” asked me to quit my marketing job and go to seminary. Unfortunately, that also meant that I had to leave Ledyard and West Genoa. They were sorry to see me go and I was sad to leave them. But…onward and upward!
One of my last Sundays at those two little churches, my Mom, who was visiting us, went along to observe me in action. It was hard for her to get her head around Pastor John. After all, to this day, she will tell you that every grey hair on her head is on account of me and I have two brothers and a sister.
Mom chose to sit about halfway back at the end of a pew, adjacent to the center aisle. I entered the sanctuary like royalty, decked out in my newly acquired robe that resembled a monk’s uniform. I loved my robe. It made feel like a Reverend, like Billy Graham incarnate! I looked to Mom for approval. She never moved a muscle. During the whole service, except when she stood to sing a hymn, Mom sat there like she was frozen in time.
After I gave the benediction, I went to the back of the church to greet my flock. After the mass exodus, Mom remained seated, staring straight ahead. I went to the altar and extinguished the candles, then I decided to place myself at her mercy. I approached her pew. She stood up. I gave her a hug and then asked, “How did I do, Mom?”
With little or no emotion in her voice, she replied, “I loved your sermon, but I hate your robe.”
The thud that followed was me falling down to earth. The trappings of my office are simply trappings. My title and outfits matter not. What matters most is that I stay down to earth, especially since I am no better than anybody else and no closer to God. More importantly, “down to earth” is where most people live. It does very little good to be so “heavenly spiritual that I am no earthly good.”
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA