The collar in context

March 10th, 2017

I don’t wear my clergy collar every day, but many clergy in South Africa do.  I would have worn an Alb during services in the US and the collar mostly for Activist work or other occasions when I knew it was important for the Church to be seen as present. This past Ash Wednesday, I had my collar on when I was walking home. I walked past an art gallery that was having an event. I was invited inside by a man who shared with me that he was in a conversation with a group inside that had just asked about the ashes on the foreheads of people on the street and would I explain what Lent and Ash Wednesday is all about. I sat with them for almost an hour answering their questions about faith before I made my way out the door and up the street a bit further to my home.

A couple of days later, a waitress in one of the restaurants near the church asked me if I could teach her how to pray. I asked her to sit down, listened to her story, and shared with her how important it was to allow our very being to rest in God, that we find our way to that rest in quiet. I shared that the answers we seek can be heard best in the quiet, and then I grabbed a napkin and taught her a way of understanding the flow of the Lord’s Prayer I learned long ago called the ACTS prayer. A-stands for adoration, C-confession, T-thanksgiving, S-supplification. Then we prayed quietly and with words. Afterwards, I finished the last two bites of my Friday pizza and headed back to the office to get back to “work.”

I have taught three people that prayer in the past three days, each of them in the community right around the church. I am not sure they would have known I was a Pastor had I not been wearing my clergy collar around them one day, but each of them knew who I was for my walking around the City as a practice — every day. There was a woman who reached out to me yesterday who I met when I was walking in the Company Gardens months ago. As I approached her yesterday, I saw that her eye was swollen shut and she looked like she had been beaten badly. This was how she looked the first time we met.

I took her hands and listened as she told me what happened. I didn’t know what to say; I felt at a complete loss. Then she taught me my lesson for the day when she said to me, “Thank you, it was the first time I could hear what it is I must do. I know I must leave and it is because of you.” I had taught her many months ago how to pray. I shared with her that I can only guide her to a place where she can listen. I can hold her hands and be with her, but it is God who gives us strength, who breathes life into us, and that it is because of God that we can know we are never alone. I said, "It is important that we thank God for this strength you found in trusting in this truth," and we prayed.

She didn’t need me to tell her where to go or who to talk to; there were women in her community that guided her through all that. She came to me in the trees where we had first met so that I could hold her hands like I had once before and pray. It is moments like this that remind me that I am but a breath of a presence in someone’s life, whereas God is their eternity.

I am so thankful for the trust that people extend to allow me into the holy space of their prayers and their lives. I found myself unable to sleep last night for thinking about the gift of what it is to be someone who people stop on the street and ask, “Will you teach me about God? Will you teach me to pray?” I could barely catch my breath for recognizing the precious, holy, stilling beauty of it.

This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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