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TAYLOR: It’s time to quit pretending

Column by Lake Country resident Jim Taylor

It’s time to quit pretending made a momentous decision a few months ago. I decided to quit playing minister.

A few people may be surprised that I’m NOT a minister. Because I often write about religious topics.

I also write about evolution, life, economics, politics, and occasionally even mathematics. Somehow, no one suggests that makes me an economist, biologist, or mathematician.

Perhaps they assume that no one could possibly be interested in theology unless they were being paid to do so.

If I sound like a minister, sometimes, it’s because I spent 35 years working in, and for, and with the churches of Canada. Mostly the United Church of Canada. But also with inter-church and ecumenical groups, such as religious publishing associations, summer camps, and theological colleges.

So when a congregation’s regular preacher gets sick, or quits, I get called on. Because I can put on a creditable performance, even on short notice, where other people would back off in terror.

I’ve led worship services all over the country. I’ve been a theme speaker at church conferences. I’ve written around 20 books and hundreds of articles, dealing with religious concepts. I probably know the Bible better than many professional clergy.

But I have never been ordained as a minister.

And the truth is, I never wanted to be one.

My father was a minister. And a college principal. And a professor of theology. With four doctorates. He told me once that he was sure he could get me a Rockefeller Scholarship if I wanted to study theology.

I turned him down.

My boss for 13 years, the editor and publisher of The United Church Observer magazine, offered to pay my way through three years of study at a seminary.

I turned him down too.

I’m good with words. I’m a good speaker. I could probably have crafted sermons that would lead me to prestigious pulpits.

But I would have been a lousy pastor.

I discovered that during one year where I was part of a ministerial team for a local congregation. I think I handled the intellectual side — sermons, prayers, study groups — fairly well. Even some administration. But I flopped at pastoral care.

So I went back to doing what I was good at — writing.

Occasionally, I still get called on to fill in. I’m finally learning to say “No”.

I don’t know whether that decision derives from honest self-analysis, or simply from getting too old to enjoy putting together a weekly package of prayers, hymns, and sermons.

So I didn’t step into the breach when my own minister took her summer vacation.

And when an old friend asked me to lead a committal service for his parents’ ashes. I was flattered. But again I said “No.” Because a decision is not a decision if it can be rescinded every time it is tested.

Decisions are easy when there’s no pressure. It seems right. Bingo, it’s done.

They’re tougher when they force me to disappoint a friend.

After some thought, I realized that my original reasons were valid. And if I kept breaking my own commitment, I would never quit pretending to be something I wasn’t.

So I won’t stop writing about religious themes. But I won’t play minister anymore.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country:

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