When I retired as Rector of St. John's in Waterbury, CT, Bern (my wife) retired from church.
The people in the Cluster Ministry I serve as Interim Missioner are all, understandably, curious about my wife. They keep dropping hints about how they'd like to meet her or ask, innocently enough, 'when is she coming to church?'
And I always tell them, "Bern's retired from church."
They don't know the whole story. For over 30 years, Bern went to church because she supported me, not because she wanted to. She was never a proper 'priest's wife' in the traditional sense. She didn't join the altar guild or the choir (though she sings beautifully). She did what she did and did it beautifully. Bern was an actress, so she always read lessons--read them so well that some people wanted to get off the rota to hear her read. And she would train readers if I asked her to, and she did that with passion and patience. She would, from time to time, direct some drama I was always coming up with for worship. And, at St. John's, she organized the nursery because by that time she was the Coordinator of a co-operative pre-school in New Haven and knew about kids in a way few people do.
And for years upon years, she hosted our New Year's Day Open House for anyone in the parish to come to our home.
When I retired as a full-time priest, she told me she was retiring from church. She had it coming.
What people don't know is that I promised her, when she agreed to marry me, that I'd never be ordained. I'd been to Harvard Divinity School and earned an M.T.S. but I had no intention of being a priest. I wanted to be a Professor of American Literature in some Mid-Atlantic states liberal arts college. Like William and Mary or Mary Washington or Washington and Lee--something like that.
So, I lied to her--it was an honest lie but a lie nonetheless--and when I was ordained she stuck with me and became a remarkable support to my parish ministry and never bowed to the expectations of a clergy wife, which made her the best clergy wife ever!
For over 30 years she not only 'played a role', but played it in an odd way. Luckily for her--and for me--the three parishes I served were 'on the edge' and not really typical. So they didn't object to Bern's claiming her space. God bless them all.
And I actually agree with her about church attendance. Sometimes when people want to know why I became a priest, I tell them "so I'd go to church." Left to my own devices, I'd read the NY Times Sunday edition and drink coffee and eat bagels on Sunday morning and watch all the Sunday morning News Shows.
I love the 'community' of church. That's most of all what I love about church. But if I weren't a priest my attachment to the 'community' would be Christmas and Easter and about 12 Sundays a year. I wouldn't be a good lay person. I would never serve on a vestry or any committee. I'm come to suck out 'community' about ever 4th Sunday and that would satisfy me.
But I am a priest. And I thank God I am. I love to be totally immersed in 'community' and the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry gives me a group of communities to consume my need for community. And I'm a priest so I do it every week.
Bern is retired from that.I support her absolutely in her retirement. And, from time to time, I envy her freedom on Sunday morning.
I can see myself in the bed with the NY Times, a bagel with flavored cream cheese, a cup of Bern's hardy coffee and my dog and cat in bed with me as well about 10 a.m.
What could be wrong with that?
So, Jim, why did you become a priest?
So I'd go to church.
(Obviously there is more to it than that. But that is bottom line....)
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