Seeing Me Sweat

I spent three summers in Falls Church, Virginia in my college days working with children and youth in a fairly large, affluent, Southern Baptist church. Every Sunday, I wore the same outfit. Blue jeans, a button down shirt and tie, and a sports jacket. the third summer I worked there as an “interim youth minister” and not simply an intern like the previous two summers. I enjoyed the people there. I enjoyed the area. I enjoyed the work. The program, however, needed some work.

At the end of each summer, there was a service dedicated to the youth. The students would speak and then the youth minister would give a summary of all the things that happened over the course of the three months, or so, of programming. In the absence of the youth minister that had been there for years, it fell upon me to summarize and “sell” the benefits of having a such a program to the congregation. I was happy to help sans two problems.

The first of the two came prior to the service. The week before the youth service, the minister assigned to look over me said he had arranged for a member of the church to loan me a suit and tie. As quickly as I said “I do” to my wife in later years, I told him I would wear, as I had every summer for three years, blue jeans, a button down shirt, a tie, and a sports jacket. He insisted. I offered to let another person speak. He explained why he thought I should dress to the standards of those in the church. I explained why I thought Jesus might not even care.

When it came time for me to address the congregation, I spoke honestly, candidly, and pointed out what I thought were the successes and the things that needed attention. I sat on a pew just in front of the head minister, who got up, looked directly at me from the pulpit, and announced to the congregation, “There is a saying in Christian ministry. Never let them see you sweat”.

I responded immediately, in a voice that could be heard from anywhere in the large sanctuary, “I think it is just a part of being honest”.

He walked down, grabbed me by the arm, and led me to the back after theĀ service was over to shake hands with everyone exiting the somewhat shocked room.

Years after that summer, I heard the minister that was overseeing me that summer, said in a class, that maybe he was starting to see my point on wardrobe in the church. And even some years after that, I contacted the senior minister, who was then in a nursing home, just to apologize and let him know that I harbored no ill will towards him. The truth of all of this is, none of it really mattered, though in my mind, it mattered a great deal. I do not look back on those summers with regret, but with a joy in the people I met. And while they may make a great story to later tell in a bar, or coffee shop, or blog, most arguments gain life when people over estimate the importance of what they believe. Happy Thursday.

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