#74: A Day in the Life

#74: A Day in the Life

I’ve written a little about my surprise career in ministry, and the wonderful environment in which I am fortunate to work. But I’m not sure I’ve told you, Dear Reader, what I actually do for a living.

I work for a prominent pastor, answering his mail and e-mail.

It sounds simple, but the number of hats I wear in the course of a day is a constant trial for my hairstyle. Sometimes I try to be a theologian, using transcripts and Bibles and commentaries (oh, my!). Some days I am a PR person in “spin” mode, having to explain to those who complain. Other days find me wearing a counselor’s hat, attempting to convey the pastor’s views on little things. Like marriage. Divorce. Child-rearing. Grief. How to live the Christian life. Who God is. The problem of suffering in the world. Why bad things happen to good people.

You know. Light stuff.

The work my department does is kind of mysterious because we try to keep people’s issues as confidential as possible. They have poured their hearts out to a pastor who is like a friend in their living room every week via the broadcasts, or commuting with them as they listen to  sermons on the radio. We feel badly that he can’t reply himself, but logistically that is impossible. My workplace receives hundreds of letters, e-mails, and phone calls on an average day. We really don’t want the boss sitting in the mail room with a letter opener when there are bigger fish only he can fry. We have access to all of his teachings on every subject under the sun, so we know how he approaches things. I’d like to think our responses are the next best thing to hearing from him directly.

Answering a few questions sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? But the letter may be written in illegible scrawl on brightly patterned stationary, needing handwriting analysis with a magnifying glass. The e-mail may come from an international partner whose first language is not English, requiring Google Translate to understand. The name or address on the envelope may not agree with the details in the letter itself; who do we write then, and where? In addition to theologians, PR strategists and counselors, we also need to be detectives from time to time.

We’ve received emails comprised of many lengthy paragraphs in which a person describes a family situation so complex, we have to diagram it on the whiteboard in our conference room. There are multiple-paged letters detailing doctrinal issues so deep, our theology expert needs every aspect of his 3 seminary degrees to understand the questions – much less come up with any kind of answers. There are heartbreaking phone calls coming into our call center, where the operator has to explain to us, “I think she had more to say, but she was crying too hard to talk anymore.”

Lest you think it is all serious, there are light moments, too. As someone who does a lot of writing and editing, and who can’t type worth beans, I especially appreciate the typos I see in correspondence. One partner asks how to avoid “the fiery tarts of Satin!” (AKA, the fiery darts of Satan). Another wants to know all about their guardian angle (angel). Someone else asks about the “tin virgins” spoken of in the book of Matthew (TEN! There were ten virgins in the parable in Matthew! Presumably none were metallic).

There is a lot I could say about my job, but for the moment I can boil it down to this: Inspiring, meaningful, occasionally maddening, often draining, rarely dull.

Who could ask for anything more?

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