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The First Church Bat:
when reality deviates from expectations.
In this series, The Bat Chronicles, this story got delayed because telling the story requires me to examine expectations versus the reality I encountered in my first call to parish ministry. I guess I expected harmony, beauty, perhaps even utopia. Definately, I did not expect any BATS!
You see, as a Lutheran seeking ordained ministry as a vocational pathway, you can do all the schooling, get through the Bishop’s Exam, and even if you pass everything, there is no ordination unless a congregation sees fit to call you. One is ordained into that first call.
My first call was with St Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cambridge … Preston to be specific for those of you who know anything about Cambridge, Ontario. My memories of going for my interview are still so clear. I was toured in what turned out to be a fairly big church campus of a building, which included, of all things, a movie theatre! The interview included preaching, a children’s message, and refreshments which I was way too nervous to actually dig into (though they were very worthy snacks).
As a relative newbie to Christianity, who moved from adult baptism in April 2009 to seminary in September 2009, I had taken the slow and scenic route through divinity training. I was known for being that student who cried in school. Literally. Just about everything made me cry, especially in the first few years. My tears, when I look back on it, were deeply connected to my surprise that this new world I was encountering, in faith, seemed so profoundly full of hope and purpose, bursting at the seams belonging, full to overflowing with community and friendship. Those were my expectations.
To a 5-year-old Christian, being called to a big church with a sizeable and fairly young congregation, with so many learning spaces (and did I mention, a movie theatre), well it was nothing short of an emotional Christmas for me - the kind with lots of presents and yummy treats (devoid of bellyaches and guilt about consumerism). Nowhere in my expectations was there any shadow of a bat!
My call to St Peter’s was like a dream come true … an opportunity to live into the Kingdom of God with a whole community of faithful disciples. I think it was maybe my fourth or fifth Sunday of this blissful nirvana, when myself and the Sunday morning leaders were bustling in the hallways, some of us in robes, others about different Sunday duties when, flapping along the corridor came … you guessed it … a BAT!
I ducked into my office in a panic. I had at least two other robed worship leaders in there with me. Not one of us was brave. We cowered in fear, huddled at the little glass window in my office door, drawing back each time the bat flew past as though it could - ghost-like (Jesus-like?) - make its way through closed doors.
It settled after doing the Sunday circuit of the church. Someone probably went after it with the usual margarine tub and broom. All I remember is being mortified! I spent late nights working in this church all alone! How could I possibly do that with bats residing within the walls??
The same leader who had toured me on the interview date, a delightful gentleman, the Christian offering to the definition of diplomacy, said to me “Didn’t you know? All churches have bats.”
Didn’t I know?
Did he think they had a course in church wildlife in Seminary?
Did he think there was a practicum or clinical unit in how to contend with flying, disease-carrying, mammals as part of our divinity training? (yes, yes, I know they are useful and they eat lots of insects and are vital to the ecosystem yadda yadda, but they can fly! They look demonic! There is no way one should normalize their presence in a church).
I just hadn’t expected it. There were so many things, as a relatively new Christian, and an entirely new pastor, that I had never thought to expect … so many surprises where reality flew right in the face of expectations, shattering notions of peace and bliss, leaving me peering, from the other side of a glass, at the unexpected display on the other side.
But something does seem to draw bats to church. Perhaps it is the same something that draws us all: crusty, heartbroken, wounded and inner-demon laden hopeful into these walls. We are blinded by the light, and we flap about trying to sense our way in the vast spaces of graciousness, in the daylight of infinite forgiveness. We are each trying to find our way, with hopeful expectations.
What are we expecting?
Maybe it is hope. Maybe it is purpose. Maybe it is the possibility of a life that will meet the expectations we like to hold true: expectations of goodness, of justice, of mercy, of belonging, of community, of love.
More stories to come in the Bat Chronicles … Please subscribe for easy inbox access!