Life on H Street is a largely secular affair, and most of the people I run into and have conversations with aren't really familiar with the Episcopal church or clergy. Here's a list of the top ten questions I get on a regular basis in coffee shops, bars and cocktail parties in DC. I'm always open to questions, so ask away either online or in person, but I thought it would be interesting to a quick compendium of FAQs.
So, what do you do, exactly?
So, I happen to think that clergy have the easiest and hardest job in the entire world. It's easiest, because your job is to be yourself. It's the hardest, because your job is to be yourself. What I mean by that is while a lot of my day is taken up with writing, studying, praying, preparing sermons, creating lesson plans, strategic planning, getting ready for Sunday worship and leading meetings, some of the most important work I do is just talking to people about how their life is going, listening, and being present and available. I am very much still learning.
What are you wearing?
So, I'm wearing an Anglican collar, which is basically a godforsaken piece of white plastic that wraps around my neck. I'm wearing it not because it's comfortable (believe me, it's not, and don't sneeze in one of the suckers without grabbing the front first) but because certain social situations dictate that I should be wearing it. I also wear it as a way to signal to other people that I represent the church in a special way. So, the collar is less like a black belt in martial arts and more like a firefighter uniform. We tell little kids if they get lost that they should speak to someone in a uniform, and that a person in a uniform can help them get un-lost. Well, the collar is exactly the same thing, except I'm probably just as lost as you. But I'll walk with you for a while if you like.
What should I call you?
Well, Becky's my name, so that will work nicely. Titles like "Father" and "Mother" or "Reverend" or "Pastor" or "Deacon" work well for some parishes and for some people, but I'd really rather just be called Becky. Besides, if we're having this conversation, you probably don't belong to my parish. But thanks for asking, because some people really do prefer to be called X, Y, or Z. That was kind of you.
Can you get married?
Yes, Episcopal clergy are permitted to marry, and I am married to a man with the patience of Job.
Can you have kids?
I'm not really sure, we haven't intentionally tried.... seriously folks, I think that what's being asked is "Are you permitted by your vocation to start a family, unlike monks, nuns or Catholic priests?" but I've only been asked this as a follow up question to "Can you get married?" If you step back and think about it, it's actually a very personal question. I don't get upset, but it's super awkward if you think about what is actually being asked.
Can you drink?
I'm assuming you mean alcohol. Yes, please! Not too much though, everything in moderation. Just like the rest of the population, some Episcopal clergy choose to drink, and some choose to abstain. Whatever works for them. Personally, I prefer pilsners, lagers and koelsh year round, White Russians, tannic red wines and buttery Chards in the winter, and gin drinks in the summer.
Oh my God, I can't believe I just said that in front of you. I'm so sorry, that word just slipped out.
Please! You would not believe what I said on the way here when that Maryland driver cut me off. But seriously, clergy are people who professionally listen to the breadth of human experience and all that entails, which includes whatever you need to say to express yourself. Don't worry about it. And yes, I have and do swear in church.
Episcopal...is that like Lutheran/Catholic/Methodist/Presbyterian?
Yes! I'll take any point of reference that you have. Different types of Christianity are way similar than we want to admit, for some reason. One thing that makes our church distinct is the acceptance and affirmation of LGBT folks as ordained leaders, although other mainline Protestants are (thankfully) catching up.
Hey, want to come to this party on Saturday? It starts at 9:00pm.
Thanks for the invitation! I can probably stop by and say hi, but I really can't stay, because Saturdays are a work night for me. No one wants a hungover priest, and nobody wants to be a hungover priest. I really do appreciate it. Also, Fridays, and basically any night that isn't Saturday, I'm up for anything.
I know these people who are getting married, can you marry them?
It depends. I'm restricted by what I am permitted and not permitted to do by the canons of the church, which is basically church law. The best case scenario is that the couple (by the way, this couple can be same-gendered or not) find a church community if they don't already have one, and get married in the context of that community because we believe that strong marriages are supported by being in a faith community. However, if the canonical requirements are met, then I look at weddings as a conversation starter, and a chance to show people that clergy aren't a bunch of lame haters. So, maybe. It depends.