Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due

by Arthur W. Anderson

Why is it that we seem to get the most credit for what we least like to do? For example: Church visitation.

While serving churches regularly, I tried to visit faithfully, giving my afternoons to it. Hospital calls were real challenges. I felt it was very necessary to be involved in the ministry of healing for salvation is wholeness. However, much calling seemed like "hand-holding," and I thought maybe parishioners could do it better. I still feel guilt about the calls I missed. I promised myself that when I retired I wouldn’t get caught in that bind again!

Not so. After a few years of retirement, I was invited to become Minister of Visitation in our local Presbyterian Church. Again, the ghosts of guilt started dancing in my head. I dragged my feet. "Try it for six months," the committee urged! I caved in and ended up doing it for four years. Actually, I liked it though it was still low on my list of ways to serve. My Episcopal friend, pastor of a downtown church, sympathized with me. What confounded me was the plethora of compliments I received for this service. My monthly report to the diaconate was full of tidbits and laughable incidents from people I had visited. What popularity, and what grace, was given me in the process.

I enjoy preaching and, even more, preparing for it. There’s nothing like being carried away by angel winds or grabbed by a creative word from the Bible. Occasionally, I was in heaven when it seemed I had struck a chord. But it was a rare celebration when someone honestly expressed sincere gratitude for a sermon.

Why do I get more credit for calling? I’m not sure, but I do feel that for all our talk of love, community, and caring for each other, there is still very little real communication beyond the superficial, "God loves you, and so do I!" We like to see people attend, give generously, and get involved in churchly self-serving activities. But honest human engagement? Forget about that! I am just beginning to realize the importance of being real, humanly, kindly, pesky, all-ears real, a troubadour, an imp, someone who cares, a saint, a failure, and a friend who stands by and with his friend.

On the other hand, calling that in effect announces, "I’m here to do you some good" is fatal. We ourselves are struggling swimmers in the river of life. Formal prayers have their place, but, as Malcolm Boyd reminds us [Are You Running with Me Jesus?], prayer can be very earthy, too.

I now look forward to sitting down with other humans, sharing concerns, consoling, laughing, and if it leads to that, weeping together! The adventure lies in the fact that other people, the ones I’m visiting, have an uncanny wisdom I can’t supply. Jeremiah said it. Speaking of the New Covenant he said: "No longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest" (Jeremiah 3l:34).