I sometimes get asked this question outright. More often I receive skeptical glances that make it all too clear when someone doesn’t believe that going to a bar, beer festival or concert could possibly count as work. I know that some of my parishioners, including members of my vestry (governing board) have real questions about my occasional work as priest in a bar. Heck, my own wife sometimes gives me the “I think you’re full of it” look when I am heading out for Beer Week in my clericals and try to explain that it’s work. In short, people are amazed at what they perceive to be my audacity. And to be perfectly honest, I have sometimes wondered about it myself.
But after lots of recent reflection I am convinced that it is legitimately work. Here’s why. First, there is no reason why work and fun have to be mutually exclusive. I generally enjoy my work. Heck sometimes I actually enjoy finding creative ways to balance the Diocesan budget… it’s not just satisfying to find a way to make it all balance… it’s actually fun to figure out how to fix the excel formula. Now I understand if this revelation causes you to question my sanity or unsubscribe from this blog, but no one would ever say that crunching numbers isn’t work.
But there are more specific and compelling reasons why being a Priest in a Bar is legitimate ministry. Although I usually drink (I am going into bars after all) which is not something that would be permitted for most other professions, when I wear the collar people are responding to me first and foremost as a priest. That means I need to respond to them appropriately and professionally.
This is sometimes easier said than done. First, I need to keep careful track of my alcohol intake. And let me tell you, when I am faced with fantastic tap line ups, it requires a lot of self control. I can’t just relax the way one would normally would do when sitting down over a drink.
But being a priest in traditionally un-priestly places also means I run into a whole range of responses. I have greeted with smiles and looks of disbelief. I have been waved at and flipped off. I have had total strangers come and pour out their fear or grief while others try hard not to make eye contact. I have engaged in great philosophical discussions and debates. I have been groped and insulted and I have been asked countless times, “Are you a real priest?” The bottom line is that I need to stay on my toes.
And in the end that is the real reason why it is really work when I go out in the collar. I am not going out for myself alone. Instead I am choosing to become a symbol of something much bigger and more important. The collar represents both God and the Church and in these times there are all kinds of mixed feelings about both. And so when I wear it, especially in non-traditional settings I need to be ready for anything.
When I wear the collar my time is not truly my own. It means that sometimes I have to leave a conversation with friends in order to talk to a stranger. I have to be willing to set aside what I want to do so that I can listen to them. And, not surprisingly, it means I need to stay coherent.
I tell you these things not to complain or even elicit sympathy. I love what I do and I do it by choice. There are lots of other, more conventional things, I could do to exercise my ministry but when all is said and done there is nothing I would rather do.
And so I have come to understand that if I truly want to off the clock and relax then I have to start by taking off the uniform because so long as I wear it out, the reality is that I am on duty, even if it’s in a bar.