What was the best year of my life? There have been many but one that stands out as stellar and much beloved in my memory-bank was the year of my vicarage. I served as vicar near Milwaukee from late summer 1993 to August or so of 1994. The church was beautiful, the people were warm and caring, and my Pastor/Supervisor was a man who not only taught me what it is to be a Pastor, but what it is to be a friend and decent human being (him, not me). I was therefore stunned when returning to the seminary for the fourth and final year to find so many of my classmates with horror stories of their year out in the parish. In fact, after 17 years as a solo-pastor, there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t longingly wish I could just be his vicar again.
Did I do anything really good or helpful as a vicar—naaah, not really. I learned, observed, assisted where I could, and tried not to embarrass myself. I was average. It was also fun to be called “Victor” (as in that being my first name) by an Easter/Christmas parishioner.
Did I make mistakes? Well of course I committed some flubs and faux passes that still stand out and cause either a smile or a lowering shake of the head in disbelief. I yelled at the dear wife (also my friend) of my Supervisor! OUCH… there goes a career down the drain. I even “talked down” once to my Pastor in supercilious and condescending tones, “explaining” to him (who had forgotten even then, more than I’ll ever know) what “weltanschauung” meant! OUCH… Of course there was the time when I showed up to a grave-side committal, during a brutal cold-snap, wearing my stocking cap in a way (unbeknownst to me) that made it resemble a prophylactic! OUCH… Oh, and leave us not forget the time I cavalierly treated the pastor’s wife (she really was/is my friend J ) once again, like she was Mrs. Cunningham (“Happy Days” my friends) during a VBS puppet show shtick!
Ouch, well, no, that one I still think was funny.
But the one thing that happened to me that I still think about regularly, sometime several times a month, is when I almost “lost it” during the Divine Service.
I was responsible for reading the first two lections every Sunday. I always prepared ahead of time and practiced so as not to slip up, trip up, or mispronounce any words. But on The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord I was bit by the demons of Monty Python, Samuel Clemens (the Imp of the Perverse) and Abrahams and Zucker (Airplane I & II). There I was minding my own business (and the Church’s) reading as faithfully as I could the appointed Old Testament from the Three-Year Series (for Epiphany A, B, & C are the same) which was Isaiah 60. 1-6. When I got to verse 6 I read as loudly, clearly, and boldly as I could: “herds of camels will cover your head.” Now, I know that in the grand scheme of humor, that is not the least bit funny. In fact, no one in the parish seemed to have heard the mistake (the Scriptural word was “land”, not “head”) and I did in fact continue reading the rest of the verse without missing a beat. It was only when I started to then read the Epistle (Ephesians 3. 2-12) that my brain figured out what I had said. To me the absurdist image of camels on the heads of people (thank you Monty Python & Basil Fawlty) struck me, at that moment, as the funniest thing I could think of…and I did. I was as close as I’ve ever been to a fit of silly-girly giggling. I knew that to start tittering would be wrong, unprofessional, and demeaning. The more I tried not to snicker, well, you know - - I had to continue to read as well as attempt to bite some part of my tongue, inner cheek, (which by the way is physically impossible) or lip to divert the “Imp” away from… impious laughter. I finished the reading. No embarrassment.
But to this day, I cannot read a pericope (we use the AV, and the Historic 1-year lectionary) that has the word “surely” in it (and a whole lot of them do) without having to also stifle the urge to add a Leslie Nielsen commentary at the conclusion of the text: “yes, Lord that’s true, but stop calling me Shirley!” OUCH…