Life as a minister is strange. People find out that you are a minister and immediately start apologizing for cursing in front of you or confessing how long it’s been since the last time they went to church. Dating as a minister is even worse, though I shall not go into that today…
But a funny thing happened when I took this job in Nyack exploring ministry outside the walls of the church. Because, you see, I used to work in a church. I worked most evenings leading Bible studies or committee meetings. I taught and participated in worship every week. When I would come home on Sunday afternoons, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Because of this schedule and whirlwind of activities, when I was done with my church duties and walked through my apartment door, I was officially clocked out.
This lifestyle created a very clear divide between when I was a minister, and when I was just plain old Abbie. I was either on duty, or I was not. Truthfully, I did not realize how much my life had become divided until I left that job to explore ministry outside the walls of the church. Suddenly thrown into a community where I had no real “on” or “off” hours, I began to get involved in the neighborhood and my involvement was my work. Suddenly, every conversation, every meeting was an introduction of me as a minister. It was an introduction of “Christianity” to those with little positive experiences of that label. Suddenly I felt the pressure, but also a sense of relief. I could be my sometimes-sacrilegious self and still live out how I cared for justice, loved God, and believed in the power of love overcoming darkness. I didn’t need to act like a minister, I needed to make being a minister look more like being myself.
Shifting my identity from a minister who worked in a church, to a Christian who lived in a community changed my life. Suddenly I had a well of patience as I encountered crazed drivers on the road, because I wanted to be a force of generosity towards strangers I encountered. Suddenly the faces I saw behind check-out counters and serving plates at restaurants were people who were tired, underpaid, and frustrated, in need of a little compassion and kindness, and it was now my job to do that. My “job” no longer had a time to clock in or out, but included every person I encountered.
This has been on my mind often this Advent season, as we make our way through the insanity of malls and parking lots, restaurants and check-out lines. Advent is a season of opportunity to actually live out our faith. This is the time to be kind to the stranger at the check-out counter, to be generous to those who serve our tables, to smile and wave at the frustrated driver on the road, letting them have the right of way. This is the season when being a Christian is not an activity relegated to Sunday or Christmas Eve, but you are a minister all of the time.
The Rev. Abbie Huff serves as a modern-day missionary and leads the Nyack Project in Nyack, NY. http://thenyackproject.com