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Hallo again to all.

So often we are asked in our workaday lives to catalogue our accomplishments. Composing a curriculum vitae or application for university forces us to 'sell' ourselves to others. An annual performance review often serves as a lesson in diplomacy in how to word project goals met without seeming to minimize those above us in the hierarchy. Interviewing for a new position can be fraught with trying to find the balance between underselling and overselling oneself and one's capabilities.

All this self-promotion and making sure others know exactly what we have accomplished and what we can achieve is the opposite of our goals in our lives as Christians. At least, it ought to be. There is a natural wish to be recognized for our efforts, but is our primary motivation to have others congratulate us for our good works?

We were perusing a church publication from February 1935 in which we found the following item entitled, Confessions of a Parson: The Danger of "Doing Good":

A while ago Mr. Stickles came to see me. Mr. Stickles is a prominent worker in the church and perhaps both "prominent" and "worker" should be written in inverted commas because they have a meaning all their own when they are applied to people like Mr. Stickles. Mr. Stickles has many merits. He is virtuous even though he knows it, and he believes in his own virtue, I suspect, even more than he believes the Creed. He is excellent and his excellency obtrudes. He is charitable and the published list of his benefactions proves it. He is meek though he accepts a rebuke in such a way that the man who dared rebuke him tries to apologize. He is faithful, for he has told me fifty times that "he never misses a Sunday." I wish he would. He is a paragon of all the virtues and the worst bore in town.

Even so I can get along with him very well because every parson is a mark for bores. His profession constrains him to listen. I sometimes fear that Mr. Stickles will never accomplish much (and what a heresy he would think it) until he stops doing good to people. He does good to the young men-when he can catch them. He does good to the girls, and they giggle. He does good to the congregation, and they writhe. My small nephew, on the occasion of a recent visit (for it happened that they fell out together) put salts in his tea. When his act was discovered he was sent upstairs, though not before Mr. Stickles had swallowed half his cup. Later I went up to administer a reprimand, but my nephew said that he only did it "in Mr. Stickles' best interests." His plea was accepted.

The fact is that a man had much better try to be good than to do good. If he is concerned to make his life holy and innocent, God will surely use him as a means of grace. The monks of old left the world that they might by prayer save their souls. The world was better as a result. They did more by praying than by working.†

We ask again: Do we participate to be recognized? Do we seek to have others congratulate us for our good works?

We have been in situations where we have not liked how our conscience has answered on our behalf. For many of us, the past few weeks have included the readings from I Corinthians where Paul writes about members of the body having different gifts, with all needed to make the body of Christ whole. Our personal experience is that the Holy Spirit prods us to use different gifts at different times in our life. Sometimes we may be called to lead or speak publicly. Other times we may called to be a sheep in the pews letting others take on the mantle of public leadership. No matter which of the many roles we may play in parish life, it takes consistent effort to remove the 'I' from our life in community at church.

Our commitment to ministry and mission is always there. With patience and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it is enacted between our Lord, ourselves, and the other souls with whom we work to discern and follow God's call. Following this practice, however haltingly, enriches us more than public works or speaking ever did.

A few months ago, we were helping a relative sort through drawers and piles of papers and other detritus that gathers when one lives in a home for 35 years. We came across this photo and asked if we might take it with us. We do not know the priest or deacons. Our relative mentioned the priest served in a community of those with Hansen's disease, more familiarly known as leprosy. She had met him once years earlier when he spoke at her parish. We think she told us his name, but we didn't write it down and don't remember it. If you recognize these gentlemen, please write us.

We tucked the picture away on our desk at home, and there it sat becoming buried under the chaos of bills and correspondence that seems to grow exponentially every time we turn around. Until this weekend: an unfortunate spillage of tea caused a major upheaval of the items on our desk. Unearthed from an archaeological pile on the left corner, we found the photo unharmed by the flood of tea.

There they were again: three faithful people together serving in an unknown flock. And though we don't know their names, where they were located, or even when the photo was taken, we find it a beacon of hope for the role of the Church in our imperfect world. The black and white scene seems to radiate with their shared mission and the spiritual care they provide as God's ministers on earth. And isn't that the point of ministry?

Please write and share your thoughts.

See you next week.

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24 January 2016

The Church Militant, February 1935

A thin blue line
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