Jesus is very shy of the cameras. He’s always telling His followers to hush up the p.r. campaign, trying to avoid the limelight, running off into the desert for a prayer weekend instead of performing some front-page miracle. For those of us who live in a “who wants to be famous for being famous” culture, drowning in “celebrity editions of” which feature people who are only celebrities because they appear in those very editions, that’s hard to understand.
I like it, though. I’ve spent most of my career avoiding the cameras. In The Episcopal Church, the Midwest is the equivalent of Siberia: people know it’s there, and they know it gets cold in the winter, but other than that it’s best not thought about. We actually have a whole website dedicated to enticing clergy to consider calls to Midwestern cures called “Flyover Church.” Twice in a decade I’ve called every seminary in the nation with a fully-funded associate position in a growing parish with no financial troubles and a Hispanic ministry–the sort of dream job seminarians scramble for–and received fewer than four return calls between the nine seminaries combined. The last time, it was three return calls, all seminarians from our own diocese. Which is my way of saying that, if you’re Episcopalian and you like the limelight, Carthage ain’t where you’re going to get noticed.
Sometimes I resent that–yesterday, in part of my Kubler-Ross grieving process, I was in a foul, angry mood. Sure, it was about the cancer, but it took the unedifying form of self-pity about my self-imposed, self-chosen obscurity. I mean really, a parish that doubles in size in a demographically stagnant small town, reconstructs its entire plant without ever holding a capital campaign, builds transitional homes for women in abusive situations and schools in earthquake ravaged Haiti, you’d think I’d be the headliner at every church growth seminar there is, right? Right, hmmpfh, cue the self-pity music.
But friends, here’s what I have to remember, what we all have to remember: it’s not the press, not the lightbulbs clicking or the headlines screaming, that matters. What matters is that I am able, at the end of the day, to say “I am an unprofitable servant” and to know that the Almighty and Everlasting (blessed be He!) is likely to respond, “Hush, honey, get some sleep: you had a good day and tomorrow’s going to be even better.” Jesus avoids the spotlight, and frankly I’m glad that I’ve done so for most of my ministry and most of my life. The quiet rewards–a 4 minute commute, having people who will never attend my parish call me for some pastoral advice because they know me better than they know their own pastor, the ability to name 99% of my parishioners as I hand them the bread at communion (most of the remaining 1% is due to Covid-masking and the large number of new families I’ve not gotten to know as well as I’d like through the past chemo year): those, friends, far outweigh the notoriety. And besides, even if they didn’t…well, Jesus avoids the cameras. I’m supposed to follow His example, not second-guess it.