The things you learn

In the winter of 1977-1978, as I was preparing for my final semester of Seminary and anticipating that I would obtain a call to serve a church, which would make me eligible for ordination, I prepared my first Ministerial Profile. The Ministerial Profile is the denomination form that serves as a resume for pastors seeking a call to a congregation. Among the standard questions on the form at the time was a request to report on your four most recent professional positions in the church. I put down my internship at the Wholistic Health Care Center and the Union Church of Hinsdale, My work as a church janitor at University Christian Church, My two summers as manager of Camp Mimanagish of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference and my nine months as a licensed minister for pulpit supply at the Custer Community Congregational Church in Montana during my senior year of college. That was all of the professional church experience that I had. Then I submitted my profile as was the custom in our seminary to the teacher of my United Church of Christ Polity Class for his review before submitting it to the denomination for distribution. When I got my draft form back from my professor, Dr. Rooks has written across the experience page in red ink, “Are you sure you want to report your work as a janitor? They might expect you to clean the bathrooms as ‘other duties as assigned.’” At the time, I was a bit incensed, I was applying to be ordained to serve the church and if that meant cleaning up a bit, I was willing to do what I was called to do. I was wary of ministers that thought they were somehow above the people that they served and who thought that some jobs were beneath their dignity. I left the report of my work as a church janitor in my profile. It worked. We received a call to begin our ministry serving the Reeder and Hettinger, North Dakota congregations, a position that we held for the next seven years. It was a great beginning to our ministry.

Over the years, by the way, I have cleaned a lot of bathrooms. I’ve cleaned up after toilets overflowed and I’ve plunged clogged toilets. I’ve cleaned up after children, and I suspect adults, have had “accidents” in the bathroom. I’ve scrubbed toilets and walls and floors. I’ve also moved furniture, installed new shingles, replaced siding, caulked windows, painted walls, hauled out garbage and recycling, and escorted vagrant people, curious children, stray cats and dogs and a couple of birds out of church buildings. I even chased away a marauding bear, but that was during my time as a camp manager before I was ordained.

Along the way, I’ve learned to do a lot of jobs that require skills that aren’t taught in seminary. I know how to fire up a boiler, pull Cat5 and Cat6 ethernet cables, install phones, administer a database, update computer software, split firewood and change the tire on a trailer.

For the record, my theological education did not include any classes in computer network installation and maintenance. There were virtually no computers in churches when we began our ministry. I did help our first parish purchase an electric typewriter and a photocopy machine. I did learn how to run a spirit duplicator and a mimeograph machine. I’m pretty good at replacing typewriter ribbons and cleaning type. My seminary had no classes on kitchen appliance maintenance or lawn and tree care. I have no professional expertise in forming budgets or accounting procedures.

There is a fair amount of learning on the job that occurs when you choose to become a minister. What I’m saying is that my job isn’t all preaching and teaching and reading books and leading discussions and making pastoral calls. There’s a fair amount of basic administration, personnel management, building maintenance and other work that ends up on my desk from time to time.

Which is why I know how to properly install the lower spray arm of a Hobart Commercial Dishwasher. I didn’t take a class. I just learned it from doing what needed to be done. I mention that particular task because our church’s dishwasher quit on the crew washing dishes three weeks ago. We called the Hobart Company who sent out a technician who said that the problem wasn’t the machine but the fact that there was no pressure gauge on the water line. We called the congregation’s mechanical contractor who sent a plumber who installed the pressure gauge. The Hobart repair man came back and said the pressure was too low. I told him that it now had a pressure adjustment that was installed with the new gauge. He claimed that it would not work. We had the plumber come back. He thought the problem might be the hot water heater, which was a brand that his company does not sell and he thought might be suspect. Since we have plenty of hot water in the building, I questioned his diagnosis, but we sought to find a way to get that checked out.

Meanwhile time is passing with the dishwasher not available to the congregation. We have a pot luck lunch coming up in tow weeks, panic is starting to set in.

Last night a couple of us put our heads to gather and took another look at everything. We found out that we have plenty of hot water and that there is more than the required amount of pressure for the dish washer. I also discovered that the lower spray arm of the dishwasher was not installed properly. I reinstalled it and ran the dishwasher, which cleaned the dishes we put into the machine. It turned out that the machine wasn’t completely repaired, however. The top spray arm is not rotating or spraying. But I am left with a dilemma. Do I call the Hobart repair man again after he has proven that he doesn’t even know how to properly install the lower spray bar? What would convince me that he knows more about the upper spray bar than the lower one?

The entire process reminds me once again of how many people bring only a narrow set of skills to work with them. The dishwasher repair man doesn’t do plumbing. The plumber doesn’t repair dishwashers. They can blame each other out of any unsolved problem. And we sit with a dysfunctional machine and don’t know who to call.

I wonder if there is a class in commercial dishwasher repair that I could take. I think I’ll check YouTube.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!