This has been a stressful week, and it ain’t over yet. It started with Annual Conference. No, there was nothing stressful about Annual Conference (it was great!), but just living out of a suitcase in a hotel (no matter how nice) for four days carries it’s own type of stress. Pair that with early mornings and late nights and the stress is compounded. Then, it’s home to a house turned upside down with boxes everywhere, empty closets and cabinets, and the realization there is still work to be done on the District. It just adds up to stress.
Transitions are stressful times. I console myself with the knowledge that I’m not the only one going through these transitions. All across our denomination, pastors are frantically packing boxes, arranging moving vans, and anticipating their new environments. It’s just my turn…again! It’s what we Methodists do. Hey! Seriously, I’m not complaining. I couldn’t ask for a better move. That still doesn’t lessen the stress.
I’ve discovered that moving across town is the hardest type of move for a Methodist preacher. It’s been really hard to stay away from 1st Methodist. My inclination has been to go by there to start exploring (not just the building, but the people and the ministries). I want to be “on the ground” in the worst way, but there is work to be done in the District Office. I just thought I was living with a foot in both worlds when I transitioned from Benton to the Monroe District Office two years ago. Knowing that my wife and daughter are members of the church I’ve been appointed to, and knowing it’s just a few blocks away from my house, and knowing I encounter church members all around town who are glad to greet me and welcome me, I just want to BE there. To say “I’m itching” to get in the routine of pastoral ministry again is an understatement. But, it’s not time, yet. For one thing, we have to finish moving.
One of the transitions that has already begun is my assumption of the “Perceptions” ministry of 1st Methodist. Everyone (and I mean everyone) asked if I was going to continue to do Perceptions. Perceptions is a radio and TV ministry that Rev. Stafford has done for the past twelve years. Every weekday morning on radio, and three mornings per week on TV, Rev. Stafford has appeared to share homespun wisdom with the community. To say it has made him well known in the Monroe viewing and listening area is also an understatement. The church wants Perceptions to continue. I spent a couple of mornings with Rev. Stafford as he introduced me to the radio and TV people I would be working with in the days ahead. We cut a month’s worth of spots in preparation for the transition. I’m already learning how much accountability that little ministry is going to provide. For the not-so-perfect pastor, accountability can be a daunting thing.
It was the last week of May. I had just shot the TV spots on Thursday. Survived the weekend. Made it to Monday. Yay! A day off. Vanessa and I decide the spend part of the day at the movies. She had received a gift card for Mother’s Day. The only problem was the gift card had to be redeemed on-line. She gives the gift card to me to purchase the tickets while she gets dressed. I log on. Select the movie (Mud, if you’re wondering), and proceed to purchase the tickets. I click all the links I think I’m supposed to click to redeem the gift card. When the purchase is complete, I receive an email saying my credit card has been charged. Wrong!
I search the website looking for a link to correct my action. I find no way to chat with a service rep, or to send an email to customer service. All I find is a phone number. What do I do? Yep. I call. What happens? You guessed it. “We are currently experiencing high call volume. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and the next available representative will be with you.” I say to myself, “Self, this can’t be good.” Self was right.
Five minutes. Nothing. Ten minutes. Nothing. Twenty minutes. Still nothing. Thirty minutes. Vanessa is dressed by now. Forty minutes. I’m still on hold (I’m nothing if not persistent). Forty-six minutes, and it’s time to leave if we’re going to make the movie in time. We’re driving to the theater, and I’m still on hold (I refuse to be beaten by this evil corporation). I’ve heard “Your call is very important to us” 422 times in the past 50 minutes, and I am seething. Yeah, if my call is that important to you, you’d have answered it by now! Finally, 56:45 later (yes, exactly that long–I noted it on my phone), the guy picks up on the other end of the line.
“Hello, my name is _______. How may I help you today.”
The conversation goes down hill from there. My first response was, “Let me ask you a question. If I asked you to hold on for a minute and came back 56 minutes and 45 seconds later, would you still be here?”
“Uh, no,” was his response.
“Are you the only one working today, ” I ask?
“No, sir. We have a full staff, we’re just really busy today.”
“I bet you don’t have a very good job, then, if everyone has to remain on hold for an hour just to get customer service, huh,” is my catty reply. “That, or you figure if you leave people on hold long enough they’ll just hang up and you don’t have to fix their problem.”
“I’m sorry, sir, how can I help you today?”
I explain my problem to him–all while I’m driving to the theater. Just a bit of advice. It’s not really smart to drive angry, or to drive while talking on the cell phone. Yes, I know. But, after all, I’m not the perfect pastor. But, I continue explaining anyway.
“Well, let me see if I can find your account, sir. What’s your email address?”
“Hum? You want MY email address? Really? Okay, it’s PASTORlynnmalone@…,” and my voice just kinda’ tails off. Can you say, “BURN!” I’m caught. Accountability kicks in, and Vanessa just rolls her eyes. Not one of my better days, for sure. I don’t really remember much after that. It’s all sort of a blur. And, I felt about two inches tall.
You’re probably asking, “Where does ‘Perceptions’ fit into this story?” I’m glad you asked. One of the spots I recorded for the ministry only two days before dealt with the issue of surrendering our emotional life to a total stranger. That’s exactly what I did that day. It didn’t help a thing, and I was caught. Ouch! Accountability can sting.
I’ve also realized that in the not too distant future, my face will be as recognizable as Rev. Stafford’s. When I go to the grocery store, I’ll have to be nice to the clerk. When I go to a restaurant (which I do way too often), I’ll have to be nice to the server (and I’ll have to be a good tipper). When I’m cut off in traffic, I’ll just have to smile and wave (the correct way). I’ll have to be nice all the time…which is exactly what I’m supposed to be anyway.
I am reminded that “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). That’s the life we’re called to lead. That’s the life I really want to lead. I really do, but being not the perfect pastor, I often fall short. Maybe “Perceptions” will be just the thing to keep me on track. Then again, maybe not.
Until next time, keep looking up…