A few days before Christmas, Linda at City Hall reached out to ask me what I wanted on my business cards. As a new City Council member, I'll have cards and a badge and content on the City of Elmira website.
It is a bit more complicated than it would seem. First, there is the problem of my first initial. While everyone knows me as Gary, my first name is actually James, after my father. Mom, determined to avoid Southern nicknames like “Little Jimmy,” insisted on using my middle name. (My cousin, “Little Johnny,” is well over six feet tall, and a married professional with a family.)
Then there is the question of the professional honorific. Though most folks use “reverend” as a title, my title in a local church setting is “Pastor and Teacher.” The broader term that covers all United Church of Christ clergy, including those in chaplaincies and wider church ministries, is “Authorized Minister.” “Reverend” is an honorific, and always used with the article “the,” in the exact same way “County Court Justice” is the title for “the Honorable” Richard W. Rich.
Since Mayor Dan Mandell does not use “the Honorable” on his business cards (he would be entitled to do so), and our Second District Council Member Corey Cooke does not use “the Reverend,” I made the decision to go without the honorific on my card as well. After all, most pastors are not exactly “revered” in this day and age.
And that is okay. While our Congregational and United Church of Christ tradition recognizes professional ministry as a special call and office, we are all about the priesthood of all believers. We claim the ordinary magic of every day, not some supernatural magic that changed who I was the day I was ordained. When clergy laid hands on me, they were human hands, just like yours.
In fact, if I had left ministry before I reached retirement age, I would have risked losing my standing as an Authorized Minister. (Have no fear... I may be around retirement age, but my student loans will keep me on the job until I die in a pulpit!) You are only an Authorized Minister in the United Church of Christ as long as you serve in a ministry of “Word and Sacrament” (both are required) or have retired with ministerial standing.
My service on the City Council, like my service to the Park Church, is not about me, not about being accepted, not about validation. It is service, trying in my own small way to change lives for the better, to treat all with dignity and respect, to comfort the afflicted, and in some cases, to afflict the comfortable.