Thursday, July 17, 2008

The fog comes in on little cat feet...

wrote Carl Sandburg. And so it did last night, chasing the almost-full moon out of the sky and waking me at 3 a.m. to the sound of a foghorn on the water, eerily loud though the coastline is more than a couple of miles away. It inserted itself into my dream and emerged as an alarm of some kind, so it took me a little while to go back to sleep as I conjured up all the reasons why I might hear an alarm in the middle of the night. None of them applied to the situation and I figured that the sound was carried farther than usual by the atmospheric conditions. This morning it is quite foggy and chilly.

Our gym is closed this week for the annual cleanup and repair, so my early morning routine is changed briefly and I have to find another way to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Yesterday I went to Double Bluff beach for a walk; the tide was way out and the sand was wet and firm underfoot. Families were out in force, enjoying the day, with little boys madly dashing their skimboards across tidepools and big boys strutting their stuff on jumps and long skims down tidal channels.

I've been in several situations lately where I've met folks in some casual setting and have avoided revealing what kind of work I do. Last night I went to a local public barbecue and sat down at an open table with a couple of women I didn't know. Our conversation was pretty general but eventually we introduced ourselves and the chitchat moved to more personal topics. I hadn't really decided what I'd do if they asked me what I did for work, but when the topic came up, I didn't have to answer with specifics. So these new acquaintances only know me as Kit, not as a minister.

I'm proud of my training and experience as a minister, but, as I wrote recently, it's a role in people's minds, and people often click into "OMG, she's a minister, what have I said?" or "OMG, she's a minister, how cool!" or "OMG, she's a minister, how repulsive! will she try to invite me to church?" or some such. In any case, the minister-role becomes more important than the person wearing the title.

I tend not to tell people I'm a minister unless they ask directly what I do. I'm old enough that some folks assume I'm retired, and I can say that I'm semi-retired. But once they know, I can see the wheels going around in their heads. Even if they aren't planning to become my parishioners, they seem to see me as a role, not as a person.

Here in this small rural community, even a small congregation's minister gets a certain renown and last night someone I'd barely met said, "oh, you're Kit Ketcham!" That's pleasant, on the one hand, and yet it requires my extroverted minister self to prepare to answer questions about my role rather than my self.

I'm torn. As an extroverted semi-introvert, I love the attention and recognition. At the same time, I'm a little embarrassed by it and don't feel I deserve it in large quantities. And I feel my shoulders sag just a little bit when one more person sees a role instead of a person when they meet me for the first time.

So all you seminarians out there, considering ministry, remember that there are many things you will dearly love about ministry. There will also be a few things you gradually learn to dislike and to avoid, when possible.


The Eclectic Cleric said...

Figuring out when to disclose what I do for a living has been a constant puzzlement for me as well; I don't necessarily want to wear it on my sleeve (although I often do), but I don't necessarily want people to be surprised when they eventually find out either. Also, I tend to mention that I am "the minister of" a particular church rather than simply announcing "I'm an ordained UU minister." And I'm always ready with my "personal testimony" as well, which (elevator speeches aside) is more about my own spiritual calling than it is "Our Liberal Movement in Theology." Anyway, I've had pretty good luck with this strategy so far.

ms. kitty said...

Sounds like a good way to deal with it, Tim, thanks.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of what happens when people find out I am a candidate for (cue some sort of drama) UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ministry. It is often 1) oh, you are a christian/conservative/judgmental person (when they don't know what Unitarian Universalism is), 2) I am/my friend is/my uncle is Unitarian Universalist! How cool! What do you think about X?, or 3) people see it as an invitation to discuss theology - and when I say discuss it often means something like, "So you don't think there is Truth?" "So, you don't really believe ANYTHING do you?" "Have you accepted Jesus?" Most of these conversations happen in Ohio and Kentucky. Often when a well-meaning family member wants to show off - E is going to be a MINISTER! She goes to HARVARD! Anyway, too long of a comment, the point being, I hear you. I read your blog all the time - just don't comment that much. Best to you and the kitties! Elizabeth

Mile High Pixie said...

How interesting, Rev. Kit--my hubby and I have the same problem with different worries. When people find out that we're architects, we get one or more of the following reactions:
1) OMG, you can't look at/please don't look at my house!
2) OMG! We want to add on/renovate/ redo the basement/ redo the kitchen! Come look and give us free advice!
3) OMG! You must be SO rich!
4) OMG! You must be SO smart!
None of these responses are very appealing to us, so we tend to downplay our occupations in situations where we feel one of these four responses might happen. However, we've had really good conversations with people that understand that there's more to architecture than "give me free advice on my house cuz I bet you make a lot of money," for example, folks who have asked us about how our job is affected by the economy or what universal health care would do to us (since we both design hospitals).

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your comments, Elizabeth and Pixie. Nice to know others run into the same kind of thing and cope with it effectively. I'm writing this from the local library, as my computer crapped out on me yesterday afternoon, and it won't be fixed till Monday---I hope it's only Monday. More later.

LinguistFriend said...

Good luck with your computer. My home computer has recently undergone transmigration of soul (HD), after which in its new body it works much better than my office computer. I wonder whether that would be a solution for my medical issues.
I have encountered a fear of ministers that I will expect them to discuss theology, which I almost never do, because I do not know much about it. Ministers have to be such a hodge-podge of social worker, community organizer, entrepreneur, theologian, inspirational speaker, psychotherapist, etc., that I do try to get an idea where a given person is in this mix, but even then their idea of of it may differ from what they actually do.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LF. It turns out that my computer only needed a Hard Drive transplant, fortunately, though that means I have to re-organize everything again. I hadn't backed up everything recently, but I do have most of the stuff I need. But it only took a day to get it fixed, too, which is a blessing! I'm home now with my healed little machine without which I find I'm sorely discombobulated.