By Norris Burkes Oct 22 2023
After 30 years serving as a hospital and military chaplain, I returned to the pastorate last year where I’m rediscovering the things I missed.
I can honestly say I missed preaching, potlucks and the playful fun I share with parishioners. (See how well a pastor can force alliteration into his/her points.)
But I must say, I don’t miss the pressure clergy feel to recruit new parishioners. I was never much good at that.
However, in the Air Force I had ample opportunities to “troll for souls” because each base chaplain is assigned workplaces they must routinely visit. My assigned areas were the hospital and the Security Police station.
One day during a visit to the police station, I was warmly welcomed by a parishioner who worked as the desk sergeant. We sat down together inside his cubicle to talk about office issues.
But, a few minutes into our conversation, his boss called him away for a moment.
While he was gone, I remained in the cubicle, hidden away from the officers who just then entered the squad room.
Assuming they had an empty office, they began to talk.
Their “talk” quickly turned to the graphic nature of their dating life. As they told their can-you-top-this stories, one officer claimed his leading role as a “ladies man.”
Each of his stories centered on his prowess with several women inside his large Ford Taurus.
But when they saw their supervisor reenter the room, they retreated to their break room.
“Do you want to have a little fun?” I whispered to my friend.
He gave me a hesitant nod, so I filled him in on the conversation I’d overheard. Then I asked him to introduce me to his fellow officers assembled around the donut box. (Apologies for the cliché.)
The sergeant and I entered the break room wearing matching grins.
Each officer gave me a hearty greeting.
I recognized the distinctive voice of the Taurus officer as I sensed his unspoken question, “How long have you been here chaplain?”
That’s when my friend and I began our recruitment drive. “The chaplain thinks some of you might want to join him for chapel service.”
Even with the police officers’ sixth sense, they still did not surmise they were in the crosshairs of an incoming practical joke. Their answers focused on their excuses.
“I’m Catholic,” one said.
“My wife’s out of town,” said the other.
“I don’t have a car,” said a third.
And with that divinely ordained cue, it was “Bombs away.”
“Well, I understand that one of you has a nice big car you can use for church carpool.”
They exchanged puzzled looks, but the eyes of the storied officer widened in fear. He knew we had him in “target lock.”
“Yeah, I was sitting behind your supervisor’s cubicle when you all walked into the office.
“You couldn’t see me, but I could sure hear you. Which one of you has that Ford Taurus?”
Suddenly, my “smart (aleck) bomb” found its target in the one telling the car stories and he doubled over in excruciating embarrassment, retreating into his cubicle. From the noises he was making, I wondered if he was about to lose every donut he’d consumed on shift.
Pointing to the donut box, I said, “You know, I think it might have been Jesus who mentioned that it’s not the things that go into a man’s mouth that defile a man, but it’s what comes out of the mouth that really messes him up.” (Matthew 15:11 The Norris Paraphrase)
For a moment, the officer fancied himself the envied Casanova – but in the next moments, the exposure of his words melted him into shame.
In an effort to recruit friends, this officer had tried to be a different person to everyone he met. On his patrol beat, the officer was the protector for his community but to his friends he was the conqueror. And to his chaplain, he was a shy boy ashamed of what he’d said.
Recruiting friends and followers at the expense of who you are can get awfully expensive to one’s integrity. My guess is that it’s much easier to just be the same person to everyone we meet – which makes it much less likely we’ll forget who we are.
My pastor gig starts at 10:30 on Sunday. Will any of you be joining us?
I will be the keynote speaker at the annual Mental Health Fair Nov 11 at 9 a.m. hosted by Suntree United Methodist. Attendees must register at at www.suntreeumc.org/mentalhealth or by phone at 321-255-7378. Attendees are encouraged to stay for the entire event but will be welcome for any part of the even.
I will also be preaching at both Sunday services at Suntree Methodist, 9:30 or 11:00 am.
You can buy my new book “Tell It to the Chaplain” on my website, Amazon, or by sending me $20. Send comments to [email protected]. Leave recorded comments at (843) 608-9715 or write 10556 Combie Rd Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602.