I think all of us who embark on a certain career path, or status or vocation have a certain file in our life called “other duties as assigned.” Priests, and especially pastors are no exception. Since most of us live on site, there are many custodial duties that often find their way into our “other duties as assigned” file.
Often for example since we do live on site, (I affectionately refer to it as “living above the store”) we are the failsafe when keys are forgotten and doors must be opened. So it’s 6:00 AM, and the youth group is off to an early morning bus trip. But three of the kids and two adults must get into the school to use the bathroom. “Well just call Father, and have him come down and unlock the building!” So that goes into the “other duties as assigned file” and is subfiled under “keeper the keys,” “opener of the doors,” and “the failsafe.”
The Picture at the upper right is me in 2005 in the parish play, “Purlie Victorius” where I played the part of “Old Captain Cotchipee” Filed under “other duties as assigned.”
This weekend, I realized how much I miss our maintenance man, who recently had a stroke. And though we have some part-time help, recent snows meant that the leaves went unraked out front. So there I was, before the next snow comes raking the leaves cassock and all. Neighbors walking by wistfully asked, “Msgr., don’t you have anyone else to help you with that?” “Ah!,” said I, “A little exercise is good for the soul and the body!” And I filed it under “other duties as assigned.”
But perhaps one of the wildest examples of other duties as assigned happened this weekend also, in the middle of our main Mass. Just at the end of the homily, terrible sounds began coming out of the basement boiler room. I knew it once what was happening. The bearings on the flywheel of the blower have come loose recently, and parts for the old mechanism have been ordered. But meantime, the friction burns up the grease,and the screeching sound signals that the flange is eating itself up, send sparks out and all. Not good, I thought.
It may or may not surprise you to know that pastors, especially those with older churches are skilled boiler mechanics! Usually it results from living above the store and being the one on-site when the boiler does bad stuff. For some reason, boilers like to act up at 2:00 AM in the morning. And so we learn a lot the hard way, on the phone to the HVAC people: “OK Father, it sounds like the pneumatic system, so reset the compressor and tell me if that helps….Alright Father, try bleeding down the boiler to blow the sludge…its the valve on the right….etc” Along the way, we just learn a lot by osmosis and probably know just enough to be dangerous.
So there I was, at mid Mass, and the prayers of the faithful have just concluded. The Church is already growing cold and the grinding sounds are worse. A quick word to the nearest choir member: “Sing some extra verses!” and off I dash down the back stairs to the basement, vestments and all, grabbing the grease gun from the tool room as I go!
The blower housing and coil are the size of a truck trailer and it took a moment for the vacuum seal to let loose. But then, in I went. Now that’s a sight! Inside the blower housing, greasing the flywheel and motor, in full vestments, which are swaying in the wind from the fan still slowly turning at the back of the unit.
Back out, seal the door, fire up the unit! She ought to be good now, at least for the next few hours, “Hang in there baby!” Up the steps, tripping as I go, into the sanctuary, the cross and candles are just now leading the bearers of bread and wine up the aisle. “Thank you Jesus!…right on time!” The MC whispered, “Msgr. we were worried, thought we’d lost you.” “No concerns,” I said, “Just, other duties as assigned.”
Ah yes, we all have them, those things never appeared in the job description and will never go on our resumé or curriculum vitae, but there they are, other duties as assigned.
The Lord says, He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much (Lk 16:11). Please Lord, keep faithful in the lesser things, the unexpected things, so that one day I may be found worthy of the greater things too. Help me never to begrudge “other duties as assigned.”
Somehow I am mindful that the Lord also had “other duties as assigned.” One of the most touching and moving scenes in the Gospels is on a certain resurrection morning, at the lakeside in Galilee. Peter is eagerly swimming ashore to see the Risen Lord. And there is Jesus, the very Son of God and Lord of all, cooking breakfast for them (Jn 21:7). Yes, Jesus Christ, Eternal Son of the Father, Divine Logos, Universal King, Savior of the Nations, and breakfast chef….”Other duties as assigned.”