That was our first year of ministry. The conference president phoned Jim and told him to assume sole responsibility of our large, prestigious congregation for a few months during the interim between two senior pastors. Jim hung up the phone, wiped the nervous sweat from his face, and informed me that "the lemonade incident" was not held against us after all.
That incident had taken place two weeks earlier, during the crowning glory of our congregation the debt-free dedication of our beautiful church. The weekend-long celebration included important church officials from all levels of the church. Even the division president had promised to joined the celebration.
The head host was known for her meticulous organization. A church matriarch, her expectations for me as a young pastor's wife were high. I was simultaneously awed and scared to death of her. She performed every task perfectly, with a professional ease that came naturally. I was determined that I would show her and the whole congregation that I could live up to all that they expected. They could count on me.
When the day arrived, things were going well until the time for refreshments. The church matriarch stationed me at the door of the fellowship hall with strict instructions that I was to permit absolutely no one to leave the room until they had finished their lemonade and cookies. She did not intend to have our beautiful edifice sticky with drink and crumbs. So I began my duties. Members and guests were politely turned back as they attempted to exit with their snacks. Things were going well until he started through the door.
I knew he was important. After all, he was one of the featured guests for the weekend and was seated at the VIP luncheon table. He made "life-and-death" decisions concerning pastoral careers. He was a respected and prestigious official in the union office. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jim and the matriarch standing several feet away.
Now, you must understand that I was brought up with the philosophy that all people are created equal. That meant rules apply equally to everybody. So I began my speech: "Excuse me, sir, but you will need to finish your lemonade and cookies before you leave the fellowship hall."
He did not slow down.
"Sir," I continued, stepping closer and wondering if he was hearing-impaired, "we are asking that everyone finish their snacks before they enter the rest of the church." "Young lady, do you know who I am?" he loudly questioned.
"Of course," I smiled. "That's why you want to set a good example." The matriarch turned beet red while Jim blanched. Rushing up, they began mumbling diplomatic explanations to the perpetrator while I was quickly relieved from guard duty.
So the conference president's telephone call was a relief. Maybe that union official didn't hold a grudge. Maybe he did not report me to our conference president. Maybe he did, but because our conference president was such a great guy, he ignored it.
Humor and embarrassment seem to have followed me through 25 years of ministry. Jim thinks I attract "incidents" like some dogs gather fleas.
Dinner for two?
Just a few weeks later, while we were basking in the joy of our interim leader ship, two more church officials (from the General Conference, no less) arrived unexpectedly just as Sabbath school was beginning.
I had fought the flu all week and had not left our apartment even for groceries. Jim was fending for himself, and his lack of housekeeping skills was evident. Dishes filled the kitchen in ail stages unwashed, washed, drying, and ready to put away. As I struggled to get ready for church, I surveyed the mess and was glad the church would be cleaner their rules on confining food to one room had not changed!
Between Sabbath school and worship service, the head elder met me in the foyer. "We have two very important guests here today," he began. "You must take them home for dinner."
"Are you kidding?" I was stunned. "You know I have been sick all week, and I don't have anything prepared or even any groceries to fix, and my house is a disorganized mess. We will have to make other arrangements."
"No other arrangements! You are the pastor's wife. It's your job."
I knew it was futile to argue, so I got in the car and drove home. Nothing there had changed in the hour I was gone. Surveying the meager rations in the pantry, I realized the meal would be much less than I would want to serve to guests. So I got out the best china, trying to convince myself that the simple rations would look better on pretty dishes.
When Jim brought the men, they were gracious. However, when we sat down at the dinner table, it was evident that I had not planned this meal very well. What can you do with two packages of macaroni and cheese, a box of frozen peas, and hard bread? I scraped the frost off some old ice cream so we were able to have a bit of dessert.
I was thoroughly embarrassed, not knowing the worst was yet to come. Our two little Yorkshire terriers, Kouchie and Ajax, were thrilled we had guests. Thankfully, their friendly antics diverted much of the attention from the food and lack of housekeeping.
It didn't take long to finish this meal, so Jim invited all of us to sit in the living room, which was only about three steps from the table. I decided not to clear the dessert bowls, because the guests might decide to help carry them into the kitchen horror of horrors!
Trying to make polite conversation, we were unaware that Kouchie and Ajax were no longer with us. Then the tinkling of china caused us all to look simultaneously at the table. The dogs had somehow managed to jump from floor to chairs to table and were now contentedly walking on the white linen tablecloth, methodically licking the last of the ice cream. I was mortified.
Shooing them off the table, I began explaining that they had never before done anything like this...
The guests left abruptly, explaining that they had suddenly remembered other appointments.
"They will go back to the General Conference and tell everybody about the pastor's wife whose dogs walk on and eat on the table," I moaned. "They will talk about how these young ministers are 'going to the dogs.' " I could imagine colleagues spreading the story throughout the headquarters. Physical sickness gave way to mental anguish!
Four years ago, when we were asked to come to our present positions, my first question to Jim was "Are those two men still working there? If so, we can't go I could never face them!" He assured me they had long since retired.
Share the spice in your ministry
Now, why tell these tales from the past? They are only the first of such "events" that have spiced up 25 years of ministry in which I have managed to embarrass myself or those around me.
When we visit with other clergy families, I find that they too have experienced their share of memories that they would just as soon forget!
Here at Shepherdess International we are collecting humorous and embarrassing stories from pastoral families around the world for a new book a collection of parsonage humor. And we need your entertaining tales. In this editorial I have shared with you a couple vignettes to which I am attaching my name. Not all of my own escapades will be identified. You can choose to have your name attached or remain anonymous! Specify, please!
So send in your most embarrassing or humorous stories to Shepherdess International, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904, U.S.A. If you use a computer, send the diskette along with a hard copy. If you use only a pen, by all means, send us your handwritten experiences.
The book will be published in 1998. As with the cookbook Seasoned With Love, all proceeds will go to help pastors' spouses share the good news of Jesus Christ and His soon return.