I am my own office administrator. The secretary. The copier guy.
Such is the economic reality of our congregation and many others.
We wear many hats and gather more all of the time.
So when a new copier company came calling and offered to buy out our old contract, store our current copier for a year then have it returned, give us a sizable donation as a “Welcome Gift” and offered us a better overage rate and freeze the annual increase of the service contract at 2% (getting technical now, sorry) and throw in a community service representative who would support our food pantry and other community outreach and ministry endeavors (not very technical but unheard of in my 14 years of ministry with copiers), well, we jumped at it. And in truth the new copier makes very pretty copies. Sharp. Like the new hat I would receive for Christmas, but I am getting ahead of myself. You see, as it turns out, the low-toner warning system was specifically designed, I fear, to test the efficacy of my anti-anxiety meds.
Every Advent season, the lead up to Christmas has been fraught with issues for me. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the stress-induced breakdown of my emotional and physical health. Ten years ago in the aftermath of a few hurricanes and trying to oversee repairs to the church’s roof and septic system and economic damage wrought by several cancelled services on a razor thin budget in which we survived week by week, I was left doubled over in pain, my eyes twitching, unable to sleep, edgy and anxious and a mess. A phone call to our synod’s Emergency Assistance Program Hotline and most of the next year spent in therapy and a number of tests and doctor’s visits and medications helped me get the reflux under control and survive. Afterwards, nearly every Advent I would end up on some form of reflux medication due to a burning churning stomach and too little sleep. And more often than not as other folks tested out new gym memberships after the first of the year I would end up in therapy, trying to arrest the anxiety that would show up as various health issues, here and there. A couple of years ago even traditional therapy couldn’t handle the load, which was great and painful and hurtful as only those in ministry would understand. I couldn’t breathe. Slipped into darkness. Saw no hope. So for the past six months I have worked with a psychiatrist to find the right kind and dosage of drugs to help me better battle my depression and anxiety. It takes a while, but it has been worth it. And along the way, the auto-immune disease lupus, showed up requiring its own precautions and medications and altering my life completely. How much the stress I have struggled with over these years has contributed to this condition I will never know as the causes of lupus are complex and variable and somewhat mysteriously blamed upon some mixture of environment, genetics, viruses, blah, blah, blah. Between all of these medications and lupus I am often very tired in the afternoon, and prone to fatigue, headaches, and joint pain. And so let us enter the present…
For Christmas Eve I had to print three bulletins that averages 16 pages each. And a couple of inserts. And then, with a few weeks of vacation looming I also printed the bulletins for the three Sundays that follow. Well, I intended to print them, except the low toner warning message began to flash across the screen somewhere around my 51st copy of the 7:30PM Christmas Eve bulletin. Barely pausing to take a breath, the message changed to “Toner almost out.” Crap!
No big deal, right? Just get another toner a few days before Christmas Eve.
Our free toner as part of the service contract ships them from Tennessee regular mail. That might be a problem. As a backup I hit the internet. No big box office supply store carries it. Amazon and Ebay research followed and there I found some possibilities with priority shipping. “Click!” And that was done. $50 well spent if it arrived in time for me to finish Christmas Eve bulletins. Plan “C” involved Kinkos, which would be a mess this time of year. And in general the only messes I suffer involve my own deskor sometimes my sock drawer. Back to making copies. Some reminder somewhere declared it the first day of Chanukah. I printed on 25 copies at a time. Just in case the toner ran out. On and on I printed that day. And the next day. Then the phone rang and it was our organist telling me that she has the flu 48 hours before Christmas Eve. I printed on, covers and liturgies and inserts and large print binders. And the next day, too, the “Toner almost out” warning flashing merrily. Still the new toner hadn’t arrived, but volunteers did to stuff and fold.I printed a hundred copies at a time. Screw it. I printed one hundred – twelve page bulletins at a time. And again on the next day, each page crisp and beautiful. Still the toner held out. In my delirium brought on by ignoring the sun encouraged lupus fatigue and my body’s need for a nap nearly the entire week, I printed 125 copies of the 7:30PM Christmas Eve bulletin, twice, and still the toner held on. Then I failed to push the duplex button and an entire batch of inserts was ruined. More Tylenol. More caffeine. I printed on. TONER ALMOST OUT! The copier shouted at me. I printed December 28th bulletins and January 4th bulletins and January 11th bulletins. And inserts. I printed until the last day of Chanukah when I was finished. The last page came out of the copier as crisp and fetching as the new fedora waiting for me to unwrap under the tree.
Christmas Eve was a joy. No stress. The kids read and sang and the choir did lovely and the new ukulele trio was amazing and attendance was up for the first time in a number of years and we did not run out of bulletins (I printed extra Christmas Eve just in case and still the copier did not run out of toner). People volunteered often and everywhere and I sat in wonder at it all. These people embodying the love and grace of Jesus. I was bone-tired weary, but no reflux. No twitching eyes. No lost sleep. No drama. I did not know such a thing was possible for a pastor. It has never happened for me. Not in fourteen years of ministry.
So what have I learned through all of this?
That for some folks, anti depression and anti anxiety medications are an absolute necessity and when they work that can change one’s life.
That Christmas does not have to suck just because you are a pastor.
That if you want to know how to beat the flu in 48 hours ask an organist.
That my parish is full of really caring, loving servants of God (I knew this, but it really, really hit home this year when I was in such pain and fatigue)
That miracles still happen (or our copier’s low toner alarm system is broken)
May this season be one of joy and wonder for you and yours and may the New Year bring about decisions in your life that lead to a deeper wholeness.
Blessings, my friends!