This I Believe

Willard `Buzz` - Phoenix, Arizona
Entered on January 2, 2007
Age Group: 65+


Preachers within my denomination are expected to live by a code of conduct that calls for developing a mutual trust and concern for each other. Here’s hoping other professions do better in living out such a covenant.

Within a month into my new assignment as a young pastor I contacted a nearby minister, whom I did not know, and asked him if he would like to join me for lunch. Naturally I figured he would be inviting me to a luncheon meeting in due time. During my six-year stay in that area no invitation came from my colleague, and I took it personally. Twenty years later I received some 3rd-class mail pertaining to clergy continuing education events from that pastor. A hand-written note on the bottom of one of the pages caught my attention. It stated simply “Buzz, you’ll never know what our lunch meeting meant to me when you first came to town a couple of decades ago. It was a true gift!” He was right; I never knew, but I was certain it was a gift to me at the time.

The pastor and I had confessed near the end of our luncheon meeting on that occasion, with a little fear and trembling, that we were still not sure our doctrinal beliefs were all that sound and we felt fortunate we had gotten by the examination board on entering ministry. I learned later that a parson never reveals such doubts to a colleague. We may have decided beforehand it was a hit-and-run encounter and we had stuff with which to deal that only another clergyperson would comprehend. It struck me that co-workers may want to go for one-time luncheons and learn to cherish the memories.

It seems colleagues can be fragile characters when it comes to drawing close. I was fortunate to have a clergy mentor as a luncheon partner during the first decade of my ministry. We met every two or three months. It dawned on me one day that he never initiated invitations to meet; I always asked him to lunch. So, I decided to wait until he contacted me first. OK, it was silly, but that’s the way I felt, real childish. We touched base rather briefly at conference events over the next seven or so years, but an invite never came. One afternoon I received a call from his wife. She informed me that her husband had died suddenly that day. She said, “You know, you were his best minister friend. He would want me to give you his robes and books, and of course he would have wanted you to preside over his memorial service.” After recovering from the shock of that revelation I decided to never play the ‘who calls first?’ invitation game again with my colleagues.

I’ve always wondered about what a code of conduct with colleagues truly entails. Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘covenant’ as “A binding or solemn agreement made by two or more individuals to do or keep from doing a specified thing; a compact.” …Which can translate, “Let’s get close” or “Stay out of my hair.” I think it just may mean, in part anyway, initiating and receiving invitations, but a covenant mostly has to do with making the first move.

We would do well to risk asking a colleague to meet for lunch and heed the warning by Virginia Woolf who confessed “I have lost friends, some by death – others through sheer inability to cross the street.”