She came and stood behind me at the edge of my cubicle, just on the other side of the filing cabinet. I didn't notice her at first, as entrenched as I was in my email. Eventually, I felt her presence and swiveled around in my chair. I looked at her, but before I could even open my mouth to ask what she wanted, she was already talking.
"You know, Rebecca, being able to do what you really feel called to do in life is a privilege, and not a right."
I kept looking at her. Where did that come from? I wondered. When she didn't say anything else, I put on my young adult ministry hat and I said, "That's an interesting statement. What do you mean when you say that? Please, tell me more."
She sat down on my desk. "I just mean... well, I mean it would be easier to do what I really want to do if I didn't have to worry about money all the time." And with that she hopped off my desk and disappeared around the corner to answer her phone.
And that was the end of the conversation for the time being. Later other little bits of information about this 24-year-old young woman would be peppered in--about how her mother committed suicide, about how her sister is a drug addict, and why her live-in boyfriend converted to Mormonism while he was in prison...
Last weekend at a retreat with leaders and future leaders of the ELCA, my church, someone asked me what I have been doing since I got laid off from my job in a congregation almost 8 months ago. I told her I have been working in the customer service end of a warehouse in Norristown.
"I'm sorry. That must be awful," was the response I got.
"Actually, it's not," I replied. "There is nothing to be sorry about."
She looked surprised. I went on, "I'm living the priesthood of all believers."
This is the life that most of the people in our congregations live. Gritty, real stuff. We preach it, and we tell others to live it, yet we have no idea ourselves what that means. We tell people to go out into the world and be little Christs in all of their contexts, shining their lights into all the dark places--at work, at school, at home. And yet we rarely leave the confines of the church ourselves. And those of us who do are often marginalized by the very church we serve.
And our congregation members have come to believe, perhaps because of who we are and what we do as leaders, that the church is what happens inside the "circle." Many Christians have no room in their hearts for those who are different than they are--Muslim, gay, hispanic, homeless, whatever. It is much easier to remain inside the walls of the "church" where it is safe, than it is to discover the priesthood of all believers, the Church, on the outside.
I always suspected this, but never realized how much it was true until there was no "church" to shelter me anymore. Cast out into the world, I'm living it.