Parson (from Latin persona—meaning “person”)
Parsonage (from Latin—a rectory or house, where a person lives)

For a pastor, the deepest levels of satisfaction and intimacy in a parish occur when others begin to see the pastor as a person—a person with hopes and dreams, loves and fears, joys and tears. This revelation is not easily obtained in the parish; and the becoming is often hidden behind many masks, false identities and plagiarized identifications.

For these reasons and more, not every pastor becomes a person.

Some pastors choose to remain incognito—disguised behind thin layers of superiority (or inferiority), behind cardboard and cliché, always dressed up in the costumes of resident sage, spiritual guide, exemplar of the faith. These pastors rarely become persons, however, at least not their own persons; and even in the best of circumstances, they are forced to live one of two lives: the character or the actor. In time, they scarcely can distinguish one from the other; neither the character nor the actor captures the essence of his or her personhood.

Other pastors cannot break free of the costumes their congregations force them to wear. These costumes are binding, humiliating, often funny. Wherever they go, whoever they are or hope to be, these pastors always must wear the official face, the accepted expression, the look that others expect them to wear. They must speak the words others expect them to speak. Their attire is limited, and they essentially are avatars, walking the parish beat, mere representations of the overblown images and stereotypes that must be fulfilled. These pastors are often miserable in their shackles, yet cannot bring themselves to break free. If they are lucky, they will die young. Many only can dream of becoming persons.

Still other pastors attempt to masquerade as priests, but they know they are persons; the game begins to eat away at the seams that are holding their costumes together. They are moth-ridden, torn, and in time their costumes begin to drop away in tattered swatches, exposing them for who they really are or want to be; but they are embarrassed by being a person, and some would rather dress the part again instead of exposing their vulnerabilities.

It is difficult to be a pastor who is a person. Often, it is more difficult to find a parish that will allow a person to be a pastor. Many congregations prefer the masquerade, the slight-of-hand artist, the hall of mirrors.

Pastors who become persons in the parish are rare, but when other persons accept the pastor as a person, all are set free. The people realize they have a person in their midst. This is a person who feels, who cares, who is real—not an imaginary hero or a quick-change-artist. Many people—especially those whose lives have been exposed or destroyed—will come to a person for help. A person might understand, might actually listen. A person would not offer platitudes or scripted lines. A person might cry, laugh, sit in silence, or show up for a party wearing blue jeans and totting a gag gift. A person would be real.

Some pastors dry up, or are used up, before they can become persons. This, of course, is sad beceause all pastors have the potential to become persons. Yet, some pastors discover too late they never have been persons. Others only become persons after they quit being pastors, but the lucky ones become persons early—and just keep becoming better people as they pastor.

When the pastor becomes a person there are frequently other people in the parish who decide to become persons, too. Some people will make the decision to change out of their masquerades and costumes, remove their masks, allow others to see their scars—which are real, not pasted on for show—and they will walk the earth, upright, and look at themselves in the mirror. Some will admit, after years of denial, that they are real persons, loved by God, and who are tired of living a lie.

Pastors who become persons can have this effect on others. People can see other persons standing in front of them. Sometimes they call the person pastor, priest or reverend; but they know a person when they see one. People who are hurting, elated or full of pain always will trust another person.

When pastors discover they have become persons in the eyes of their people, it is a wondrous thing. It is freeing, and freedom is elation. Pastors who become people go from grace to grace, from strength to strength. A person has no greater calling in life than to become a person, a person of worth, a person of substance, a person uniquely created in God’s image.

Pastors who become persons eventually put away their masquerade costumes and get on with the business of living, which always is littered with reality. Persons get their hands dirty in the soil, but also soil their hands in other people’s dirt. Persons like to watch beautiful flowers grow, as well as like to tend the beauty in other people’s lives. Persons don’t make swift judgments about other people, but know people are flawed. They are not repulsed by these defects. Persons don’t stand at a distance. They kneel, plant and water. Persons look like anyone else. They are real. They are not acting their respective parts.

Pastors who become persons have no need of masks. They can reveal their scars without fear of judgment or hostility. They are willing to gaze upon other people’s scars and apply balm as needed. Sometimes they encourage people to get back on the bike, despite the abrasions.

Pastors who become persons know who they are, and they want to help other people become real, too. It is difficult work, hard work, but fulfilling. Only a real person can do it.

Share This On: