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The Next Faithful Step

Episode 11: Wearing Hats

Almond Springs (Scott Cormode, Fuller Seminary)

The Reverend Charlotte Robinson sat on an examining table as Doc Davis looked over her medical chart. She had come in for a routine physical, an insurance formality really. But now she was starting to fret. "Doc sure is taking a long time to read those test results," she thought nervously. Doc was one of the leading lay people in Charlotte's parish, the First Church of Almond Springs, California. He was also the member whose opinion she most respected. Something told her that he had given up as much to serve the town as a pastor gives up to serve a congregation.

Doc Davis

I am worried about you," the doctor finally said in a sigh. "Something serious?" Charlotte asked in a small voice. "That depends on you," came the reply, "Right now, as your doctor, I'm concerned about stress, diet, exercise. But as a member of your church, I can say more than that. I worry that you push yourself too hard, that you take too much personal responsibility for things, that you can't let others take the reigns sometimes. Honestly, I worry that you think you are indispensable. So as a church member, I can recommend that you slow down because it is not good for your church. But as your doctor, I can tell you, you must slow down because it is not good for your health. Perhaps you are wearing too many hats."

"You're right about the hats," Charlotte continued, leaving the life-style change dangling in the air. "I feel like this poor guy in a book I used to read to my kids. The guy wanders around the countryside wearing about eighteen caps stacked precariously on his head." "So you've got eighteen hats on your head?" Doc said gently.

"I wear at least three hats at work and then a few more at home. I'm a preacher, a counselor, and an administrator. In fact, I often spend a good bit of time in my journals trying to negotiate between those three roles—and between the spiritual, pastoral, and organizational concerns that they represent."

"So that's what it means to be a minister," the doctor asked, "wearing hats?" "No," Charlotte said, "there has to be more to ministering than the hats. The roles and skills do not make the minister. I mean, even if I wear each hat well (by being a good preacher, counselor, and administrator) I can still fail to get the essence of my calling. I guess you could say my 'calling' is a series of judgment calls," she concluded with a smirk.

Doc was not going to let her off the hook yet. "So what exactly is your calling then?" he asked.

"Well, my calling is to be with people—to point them to God. And to remind them that God will remain faithful to them and love them even when they are not themselves faithful or loving." She paused, fishing for affirmation. "How's that for off the top of my head?"

"But you don't feel that good about the judgment calls you've made lately?" he said gently ignoring her attempts to stray from the conversation. "No," Charlotte said shaking her head.

"Sometimes I feel trapped by my circumstances. It seems like sometimes I have to choose where to fail. I can't do everything at once so I have to pick who is going to feel left out. Like yesterday, I drove an hour to Fresno to visit Mildred Blankenship in the hospital. I had not been in a couple of days because I knew Jo was going down on Tuesday and I'd ask Margo Gold to go yesterday. Well, what's the first thing Mildred says when I get there? That she feels abandoned by the church because I hadn't been down since Sunday. It drives me nuts. I can't win." Charlotte paused because she realized she was more worked up about this than she had realized. She thought silently, "What's wrong with me?" Then she turned to Doc Davis and said, "You're Mildred's doctor. Do you do drive down to see her every day?"

"I saw Mildred each day when her case was acute," he said clinically. "But I go less often now that she is in the rehab wing. I have another physician look in on her each day. But it does not count as a 'doctor's visit' unless I am there." Charlotte smiled to herself. She knew that she'd probably feel the same way if she were the one in the hospital bed. Doc went on with his observations.

"I trust the structures that I have put in place," he said. "If I drove down every day, I could not care for everyone else in Almond Springs. I used to work late into the evening to make up the hours. But then I realized that these people needed me for the long haul. I have taken responsibility for this community for thirty-five years now. I could never have done that without pacing myself."

"But I've also had to make some adjustments," he continued. "When I send another doctor to visit a patient in my stead, I always have them bring some kind of token from me—a card or a personal message. Yesterday I stuck a card in Mildred's chart before I left the hospital so that today's doctor will have it when he sees her. It will help her know that I am thinking of her but it also helps her know that I am not coming today. That way she can address any questions she might have to the doctor who comes with my seal of approval."

"Perhaps I can learn from your example," Charlotte reasoned aloud. "I can have deacons or elders bring some token along with my greeting. I should probably call as well on days I'm not coming. I still haven't managed the art of wearing so many hats."

"What does your family say about all the hats?" Doc then asked.

"That's a whole 'nother pile of hats," Charlotte said with a wince. "I'm a mom, a wife, a cook, a homework tutor … You name it. I try to keep all those roles separated as well."

"So being a pastor is not that different from being a mom," the good doctor said with an impish smile.

"Depends on how you mean it," Charlotte said. At first, she wondered if some generational sexism was creeping into Doc's comments. But then she saw the smile and understood the point. "Oh, I see, it's not just what I do that makes me a good mom," she then said. "It's how I do it. Teaching my son Danny about Algebra is not really my goal (fortunately) when I help him with his homework. I want to teach him deeper lessons about diligence, perseverance, and abstract reasoning. Likewise, when I pastor I don't want to simply preach, teach and counsel. I want to model the characteristics I want to cultivate in the congregation." Doc's lesson was becoming clear to her.

"Thanks, Doc," she finally said. "I'll try to remember that. Which hat I choose to wear is not so important as how I act when I wear any of the hats." Doc simply smiled. He had not really set out to teach her any particular lessons. But neither was he going to stop her from learning once she got the ideas in her head. "Now, about your cholesterol … " he said with sigh.