I don’t do phones. I hate them. I don’t have one in my home (my wife has a cell though), and when I get a “pink slip” message at the office I go to the Internet and look up the person and write them an email instead of returning their phone call. In fact, when I hear a telephone ring I actually cringe. Even when I hear a telephone phone ring on TV, I shudder. I can’t help it; I’ve always been this way. Maybe I need counseling?Why am I this way? You see, I’m a preacher’s kid. My dad was usually gone when I got home from school as a lad and I’d look forward to his arrival like it was some sort of paternal parousia. When he did show up I’d get my chance to be with dad. He was a great dad, too, giving me undivided attention at the dinner table. Except, that is, when the phone rang.
Inevitably our quiet father-son conversation would be interrupted by a harsh RIIIIING! My dad would answer it, of course—he was a great pastor just like a great dad. Often the call was just a simple request for information (usually something he’d already printed in the worship folder or sent out in the midweek). But sometimes it would be a member registering a complaint, to which he’d listen patiently, sigh as he hung up, and return to the table a tiny bit older. Occasionally, the calls signaled some sort of emergency and he’d rush off to the hospital, or over to the church. I don’t remember many calls bringing good news.
Even when the calls did not kidnap my dad, he’d return to the table preoccupied. It took five minutes before we could get our father-son conversation back into focus. About the time we did, another call might come. It was not uncommon for my dad to get two or three calls during dinner when I was a kid.
That was then, but this is now. Has it gotten any better? In a pastor’s home in New Brunswick a few years ago, I counted seven – that’s seven – phone calls during dinner. The pastor took it in stride. But I watched his son and daughter visibly twitch as each new call came. I knew how they felt.
You’d think with message machines, secretaries, midweek mailings and office hours, pastors would get fewer calls at home today. For large church ministers that’s probably so, but is it so for average church ministers? I don’t know. Worse, we now have cell phones. This is progress? Now, even a quiet walk in the park can be interrupted by a demanding ring and almost always the person will take the call and make the real-live-person stand by waiting. The ‘city of refuge’ status of an automobile is now gone.
A few years ago a pastor made four cellular calls from his van during the hour ride back from the airport where he had picked me up — his ten year old daughter sat quietly in the back seat. Her trip to the airport was supposed to be ‘quality time’ with dad? (I wondered if the only way she could get his undivided attention was to call him?)
I know, I know, getting and making phone calls is ‘all part of the job’ for preachers. Doctors get them, so do preachers – it comes with the territory. ‘We do it for the Lord’ and all that. OK, I accept that to a degree. You might cheerfully bear it, but I hope your kids don’t turn out like me.
Somewhere in life a pastor there ought to be boundaries – creating a sanctuary where even members can’t intrude. At least at the dinner table. How? I’ve seen several good ideas. In one home, they flipped a switch during dinner which turned off the audible ring. Callers heard ringing, but the pastor’s family didn’t. (They admitted they sometimes forgot to switch it back on after dinner, however.) An increasing number of pastors ‘let it go to messaging’ during supper, though others consider this deception. Where there are two lines, some ministers answer only their personal line during dinner. That seems to work, as long as the people don’t catch on. And I have one pastor friend who simply has an unlisted number, but his church averages over a thousand, so you might not get away with that at 100.
I don’t know what you do to tame the telephone, but I hope you do something. Especially if you have kids.
© 2007, Keith Drurywww.drurywriting.com/keith
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.