At our [regional] meeting on Monday, there will be official notice to the [regional body] that you are this year's recipient of the annual [rich benefactor name here] award. This award recognizes pastoral ministry without great compensation. In past years when the stock market was in better health the award also included a reasonably sized token check. Things are not so good this year, and [treasurer] tells me that the check will be really really small this time. So this is a heads-up, with regret that your presbytery can't do more.This may have seemed an odd warning and I would have thought more about its strange tone, but unfortunately, as a devout and life-long recognition junky and over-achiever, the nuances of this message were lost to me on first read, because what I saw was this:
At our [regional] meeting on Monday, there will be official notice to the [regional body] that you are this year's recipient of the annual [rich benefactor name here] AWARD. This AWARD recognizes pastoral ministry without great compensation. In past years when the stock market was in better health the AWARD also included a reasonably sized token check. Things are not so good this year, and [treasurer] tells me that the check will be really really small this time. So this is a heads-up, with regret that your presbytery can't do more.My accomplishment-oriented mind was pre-programmed to ignore the more salient details of the message such as the completely absent congratulatory sentiment and also the mention of the "really really small check." Oblivious to these insights, I continued in an elevated mood the rest of the day feeling justified in having finally received some glory for my diligent work. However, when I "nonchalantly" mentioned this to my colleague (with casual elegance and appropriate, if feigned, humility, of course. Something like: "Are you going to the meeting on Monday? I guess I have to go....I'm getting some award." Brush hair to the side.), my bubble was instantly burst. "Oh yeah!!" he replied. "The lowest paid minister in the region award! I got that a few years ago."
Let's stop for a minute and reflect on a few things. First, Jesus, it was clear, was not into wealth AT ALL. If you don't believe me, just read the bible. Jesus regularly condemned the rich* and fervently preached their nearly categorical exclusion from heaven**. (Despite what prosperity gospel preachers might have you believe, this is a fact.) In a way, then, receiving any compensation at all for leading people to follow Jesus is somewhat of an irony. However, the church has not always done and does not always do what Jesus did, a reality which clearly explains such strangely non-Christ-like events such as the Crusades and having a church in the Mall of America. One must embrace the tradition of professionalized ministry as a reality.
The question becomes, then, how does one receive such an "award"? As a badge of honor for true, self-sacrificial service? Or as the real-world ego-deflating blow it actually is? (This is where I begin to understand more completely our Catholic brethren's insistence that religious servants take a vow of poverty. At least they're clear from the beginning what one is getting oneself into.) But seriously, how does one address the irony of a value system which says "Blessed are the poor" whose leaders must operate within a broader culture that believes compensation is the truest expression of successful and valued work?
I immediately began researching non-religion related degree programs online in a symbolic flip-of-the-bird to The Divine for this slight. But before I had time to fill out the online brochure request form for the paralegal program down the road, the ultimate death-blow of this experience was dealt. A check arrived in the mail.
A check for $11.39
Really?! REALLY!??! What kind of award is this?!??
Apparently, the Christian kind.
*See Luke 6:24 for starters: "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.‘Woe to you who are full now for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep." Strange how this part of the beatitudes is usually left off the needlepoint display in the church parlor.
**How about Luke 18: 24-25? "Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'" ZING!!!
*** In case I become rich and famous one day and the content of this blog endures long into the inflation climbing future. Here are a few things one can buy at this moment for $11.39:
|Craptastic Scooby Doo Nintendo Game!|
|Car Outlet Heated Travel Mug!|
|Cleaning Spray for Your Gun!|
|Hibiscus Sunglasses! Guaranteed to break on first use!|