The sticker affixed to my windshield indicated I was 500 miles overdue for an oil change. I glanced at my watch and I calculated that I’d reach my destination an hour early so I promptly decided to get an oil change in a fast lube facility in a nearby town.
An affable mechanic warmly greeted me. I politely asked him if he could change the oil. He immediately lifted the hood, offered me a cup of coffee, smartly checked the car’s fluid levels and began to drain the oil.
Fatigued from a long day and a monotonous drive, I quietly stood and watched the mechanic tinker with the engine. He looked up and said, “What is your profession?” It was a fairly innocuous question. I should have promptly answered. Instead, I paused and cautiously answered, “I am a United Methodist minister. I serve a church in Olympia.”
He glanced at me and said, “I don’t think you need to be ashamed about your profession. I think it is a very honorable one.”
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I was a little flustered and embarrassed. I said most emphatically, “Oh, I’m not ashamed. I love my church and I am delighted to serve it.”
I paused. I knew my reluctance to disclose my occupation was due to my desire to minimize conversation because I wanted to be quiet, meditative, and reflective. Yet I quietly conceded that I was attempting to dodge my duties as a clergyman. God made sure I wasn’t remiss.
The mechanic and I proceeded to have a pleasant chat about our respective churches, faith journeys, and more as he refilled the engine with fresh oil. It was a very satisfying conversation. I paid him, thanked him, and promptly drove away. Soon I was engrossed in thought as I reflected on our chance encounter.
I was gently reminded that I could not shed my identity as a Christian minister. I could not avoid religious talk nor disguise my profession because it dishonors the One whom I have committed to serve and honor. This applies to all who belong to any faith tradition. Almost no one who is a genuine religious convert can suddenly obfuscate his or her religious affiliation. Our actions, conversations, and even sometimes our dress or outward appearance reveal our inner spirituality.
It occurred to me that some people in certain faith traditions are reluctant to publicize their religious convictions. They don’t refrain from talk because it is unwelcome or inconvenient. Instead, they worry that they might be criticized, ostracized or persecuted. This is a sad reality. Those who are part of the religious minority are among those who commonly fear persecution from a largely ignorant majority.
I hope that we can proudly and enthusiastically talk about our faith because it affirms our own faith traditions, celebrates human diversity and draws us closer together. Start right now; the sticker tells us we’re all overdue.
Don Shipley is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Olympia. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.