...I remember the fortyish man who rang my office bell one summer night. He was tall and lean, athletic and well-dressed, the father of four children, and an usher in our church. His face was sad on this occasion as we settled down solemnly to talk. He told me he was leaving the Church and he wanted me to know. He said it wasn't anything personal and that he had grown to consider me his friend. But he was tired of a Church that would not treat him as a man. He was tired of money drives and overcrowded schools, tired of living in a world that only spoke of varieties of sin, tired of empty confessions and rites grown meaningless and cold...I could not answer him; my defensive eloquence was gone. He was not a complainer, not a wild neurotic, not a proud and angry rebel in the crowd. He was the kind of man I hoped to serve, the kind of man I longed to be, a strong and loyal friend. He shook my hand and thanked me for the services I gave. I asked him why we failed, what he wanted from his Church. He said quietly that all he wanted was a home, a touch of wisdom to see him through the week, a word of mercy that made it all worthwhile, an understanding Church that reminded him of God.
- James Kavanaugh, A Modern Priest Looks At His Outdated Church
Kavanaugh wrote his book in 1967, the year I was born. I'd love to say his words are no longer needed, here in my fortyish years, but I can't.
I've looked at Church from both sides now. With the exception of a few rare appearances behind a pulpit, I've spent the last seven years in the pew. Its been kinda like that William Hurt movie (The Doctor) where he played a successful physician suddenly diagnosed with throat cancer. Then the doctor became the patient, and everything looked different. It might not be a bad idea if every two or three years a preacher/pastor/minister/priest took several months off and sat among the people. He's there anyway, in theory, but sometimes in practice, not so much.
Two things struck me when I first read the words above, and by 'struck' I mean 'tears fell' -
But he was tired...Several years ago an author, widely-read, wrote that most men in Church are angry and most women are tired. As I look today, from both sides now, I believe both men and women are tired, weary.
He said quietly that all he wanted was a home...in the ongoing discussion among leaders in the Church as to 'who and what are we to be?', there are some of us off to the side, hanging on to the edge of the pew, quietly whispering one word - home.
We're tired. Just know that when you're preparing sermons or homilies and song sets and emphases of different durations. What does that mean? We're not entirely sure, but keep it simple. No, we don't want the cookies on the lowest shelf, that's not what we're talking about. Yes, we're sheep and goats, both not always the brightest in the barnyard, but don't forget that before that, we're men and women. We need you, we really do. Whether you like it or not, you represent God. Aren't we all ministers, the priesthood of all believers stuff? Sure, you bet, we know that and more importantly, we believe that. But we still need someone to hold our hands from time to time, someone to stand shouldered to us, remind us of the truth...someone to break the bread and bless the wine and say the words this world ignores...someone to wrestle with the Text, because we're wrestling with texts all day long, many of which are not profitable for doctrine, correction, or reproof...someone to lift holy hands in prayer for us, for our children, our mothers and fathers and friends and lovers...someone to proclaim the good news and not fret about what we do or don't with it, just proclaim it, just tell it, just sing it over again to us, do it beautifully, classically, timelessly, profoundly, be creative to the nth degree, don't worry so much about making angels weep, seek to make men and women pause, and long for home.