Who Needs a Crystal Ball?

Flickr Image: @deflam

This is a short piece I wrote for our meeting’s monthly newsletter, I thought I’d share it here as well.

I had the privilege of going to the ordination of the new priest at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Washougal a few weeks back. You may remember meeting Jessie Vedanti when she visited us for meeting for worship last month. She and her husband moved in (just next door to our meeting house in fact!) to Camas in June and as a part of her becoming the new Episcopal priest in Washougal she had to be ordained. Not only was I invited, I got to walk in the processional with about 10-15 other clergy members all wearing fancy robes and collars. Here I am, a Quaker minister, in my finest sport jacket and tie (yes, I even wore a tie for the occasion) marching down the aisle with Episcopals and other clergy. I could just see early Quaker and critic of the 17th century church of England, George Fox, rolling around in his grave. Times have indeed changed, not to mention that I not only enjoyed myself but some of the priests/pastors there are my closest friends in ministry. <--more-->

I wanted to tell you about one experience that stood out to me from that service. Their bishop, Greg Rickel, stood up and gave the message during the ordination. In the message he made a point about what pastoral care is and isn’t that has stuck with me. He said something to this effect:

“Jessie, I have to tell you something that is hard to say. Now that you are becoming a priest, you get a very secret gift from us and that is a crystal ball that we hand down to all our new pastors. This crystal ball is very special in that it will tell you every time someone is sick, hurting, angry, hungry, or in need of a pastoral visit of any kind. It will tell you who to pray for without them telling you, it will point you in the direction of people in dire distress, and will update you on all of the most important news going on in each member’s lives. But there is one problem. We dropped yours out in the parking lot and it shattered everywhere. We are sorry that we don’t have a crystal ball to give you now.”

This is a simple parable about pastoral care. The real truth is that there is no crystal ball. No pastor, however newly minted or aged and weathered can read minds. When we are hurt, angry, in need of a visit, or a pastoral prayer, an encouraging word, or direction we must tell one another. This isn’t just a pastor’s issue, it is an issue for the whole community to consider. The point is that community cannot exist for one another as it should if we are not able to, or choose to not, speak openly and directly about our personal and spiritual condition. There is nothing magic about Christian community, or pastoral ministry – we need trust and openness with one another.

As I sat back in the pew, Greg’s words struck me powerfully. They felt reassuring and hopeful. It makes a difficult situation feel more doable. As a minister I can’t magically know how everyone is doing. It is the responsibility of each of us to do our part and open up when we need it. But beyond this, we as Friends know that we are all ministers and we are all capable of caring for one another in this way — but we have to trust. Sometimes this sharing requires that we swallow our pride, sometimes it means that we have an uncomfortable conversation, sometimes it just means that we have to have a little courage.

In writing this it is my intention to invite you to find one another, make time for each other and to listen deeply. Let’s continue to build trust not just with those we know well, but those we have yet to welcome fully into our lives. I also invite you to find me, schedule some office time with me, get a cup of coffee or lunch, but come and share with me. I am interested to hear what is on your heart, what you are wrestling with, where you need prayer, who is God to you, and what are your big questions. In both of these acts our shared community will continue to and deepen, my practice of pastoral care will also grow. Our role is not to try and fix one another but to aid in listening for where Jesus may be leading and teaching you.

Quakers (and for that matter Episcopals!) don’t have any crystal balls, but we do have a loving and trusting community. The bible tells us we can come boldly to Christ, and we can also come boldly to one another. These acts of caring for one another are indeed the very acts of the body of Christ.

Finally, in the coming year, I invite you to personally meet with me, especially if you never have. One query we might discuss is this: “what does spiritual progress look like for you in the coming year?” Or as Stan Thornburg likes to ask, “What is your growing edge?” This can be a start, but I’m open to discussing anything that’s important to you. Just be sure to let me know because my crystal ball is broken.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.