A few weeks ago I received a funny chain mail message in my e-mail. It was titled, “The Perfect Rabbi.”
The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect Rabbi preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens. The perfect Rabbi smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on congregation families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.
It was told to me in seminary that the first year of a ministry is, when you’re lucky, like a honeymoon. Many feel they’re gotten “the perfect rabbi/minister/pastor,” or at least that most of the bases will be covered at long last. It’s a happy time, but also a time when you get glimpses of what you’re in for over the long run. If the congregation and minister made good choices, those glimpses into the future will be hopeful and promising. Overall it is a year to celebrate a new beginning in the life of a congregation.
It was also told to me in seminary that during one’s second year with a new congregation, the idiosyncrasies and personalities of a church and a minister begin to bubble up to the surface. You realize that the small irritations of life together aren’t going away (such is life!) and that there are places where you disagree. Done well, however, a second year of ministry together strengthens the commitments to which we covenanted. We begin to realize that we share similar aspirations not in word alone but in action. We begin to see each other’s strengths and limitations for what they are, places to collaborate and play to each other’s strong suits. This is good and healthy.
Finally, it was told to me in seminary that one’s third year is when it gets real. Really real — and that there will not only be conflict, but some significant disagreement that challenges the relationship. This is a healthy, final part of the transition because now we get to see how we deal with conflict. Are we capable of being angry or hurt, of feeling disappointed or let down, and returning with open hearts to one another? Can we listen to hurt or disappointment and respond with honesty and forgiveness? Can we not only tolerate one another’s idiosyncrasies but learn to laugh and play with them?We never talked in seminary about what happens in the fourth, fifth, or sixth year. The assumption is that if you survive the first three you and the church you serve will have a pretty healthy run. Sometime between years seven and ten we will assess where we are together and figure out together what a next chapter looks like, or so the literature says. That’s a long way away.
In the “now” I’m simply grateful for the commitment I feel within this congregation to our covenant of right relationship and to the vision we share for this institution of beloved community. We will nurture the lives of members, friends, and all who enter our doors. We will take our passion for a just and green world out into the community. We will thrive because we know the world needs places like UCE. For me, that is quite enough. It is all I need.
What’s the alternative to our strong commitment to right relationship? That chain mail letter had that answer as well:
If your Rabbi does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other synagogues that are tired of their Rabbi, too. Then bundle up your Rabbi and send him to the synagogue on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 Rabbis and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.