Speaking of British television shows (as I did in the previous blog), two of my parishioners suggested that I might like a show called Father Brown. The show is based on a character created by the short stories of G.K. Chesterton, a British author, poet, and lay theologian.
Father Brown is the Roman Catholic parish priest in a small village in The Cotswalds in England in the 1950’s. He walks around town in a black cassock and hat so everyone knows instantly that he’s a priest. He always carries an umbrella and rides a bike everywhere. And he solves murders that the police cannot. Sometimes the police welcome Father Brown’s help, but mostly they wish he would stay away and quit making them look incompetent.
I love the show and watched all seven seasons in just a few months. Aside from the obvious horror of all those murders in such a small village, the series is fun, interesting, and entertaining. Father Brown is a rather bumbling sort of fellow who can’t make tea for himself, but he is gentle, kind, patient, tolerant, humorous, and possesses a keen intelligence. And he’s quite nosy. Plus, he has very good theology. Had there really been such a priest in 1950’s England, he would probably have been defrocked for his progressive viewpoint. Indeed, several times in the show, Father Brown’s bishop threatens to do just that.
As I watched the shows, I found myself thinking what an ideal call Father Brown had. He preached and took care of his congregation, worried a little about the state of his building, and went to a meeting now and then. But he spent most of his time going out and about in his community. He went to fairs, local art exhibits, dinner parties, the pub. He visited people around town, knew most peoples’ names, and was known by everyone, even those who were not Catholic or even Christians. Most everyone liked and respected him, and if they didn’t at the beginning of the episode, they did by the end.
I thought I’d like to have a call like that. Fewer meetings and administrative tasks. Someone else to cook and clean for me. Spending my time being out and about with the community, my parishioners, and attending activities that built relationships with others.
Of course, the world was different back in the 1950’s. There were fewer events in communities, probably fewer church meetings, and an entirely different set of expectations for pastors.
And of course, I am an introvert and while I like the idea of being out and about among people, meeting new folks, etc., the truth is that I’m often not very good at that sort of thing. I like the idea of it very much, but I know the reality would be more challenging than I might think.
So for us all, eh? How often have we imagined an impending event or an upcoming life decision or a budding relationship would turn out a certain way only to discover that the reality is quite different. People are not predictable, and often what we thought we wanted does not meeting our expectations.
God is always predictable. God always exceed our expectations. Whatever we think we want from God, God always gives more.
This is not to say that we can tell God what we want and then expect things to happen just that way. It does not mean that God protects us from suffering or pain or the consequences of our choices.
It DOES mean that God is always there, always present, always loving, always forgiving, always ready to give us another chance. God can always be counted upon. We cannot say that about any other thing/person/experience in our lives. The reality of God is constant and dependable at all times. It is the only thing that is.
Father Brown I am not. Even if I had a call like his, I wouldn’t be so good at it. His “reality” would never be mine. I do not the same gifts that he does and the expectations of a 21st century pastor are quite different. So I just have focus on being the best pastor I can be with the limited gifts I’ve been given and trust that our dependable, trustworthy God will give me what I need to deal with the rest.
Still, it might be fun to walk around town in a black cassock and hat and see what happens.