My role is an odd one in this place. I'm not yet clergy, but I am performing some clerical tasks. I am not a resident, but I'm here long enough to be familiar with the ethos of the place, the challenges that the parishioners face, and the quirks of personality. I'm here long enough so I'm familiar enough - or unfamiliar enough - that parishioners unburden themselves when we do interviews for my research.
I guess I'm viewed as safe, for all sorts of reasons that may or may not be true.
As has been my experience at home, people talk to me. I have heard the phrase "I probably shouldn't be saying this" a number of times here, as I have back in the States in all sorts of contexts. It served me well as a lobbyist; it continues to serve me well today.
I suppose, then, that my mission here is to listen, and to be a trusted pair of ears for those who feel the need to vent, or to ask a hard question, or to try and work through all the changes that this parish faces in the coming months.
Some things here are very different. Nevertheless, some parish behavior is perfectly consistent with a growing church anywhere in the world facing a change of pastor after 20-plus years. I'm reminded once again of the universality of the human condition. Odd that it continues to surprise me.
These people will make it work. Not without some pain and misunderstandings, not without some losses, but they will make it work.
Being a stranger in a strange land has sharpened my senses and made me a better listener and observer. I hope it has also made me better at offering ideas and comfort, but that's a very minor part of the equation. I hope, too, that when I get back to my familiar surroundings, the clarity of perception doesn't fade entirely.