Easter Sunday morning, my wife (Katie Roelofs, Direction of Music and Worship at Washington DC CRC) and I were about to merge onto I-95 en route to our service at 11:00 AM. It was 7:45 AM, and we were headed in to help set up for our church’s traditional Easter Sunday breakfast with a neighboring church. I turned to my wife – don’t worry, she was driving - and said, “Do you need any help today?”
Those words have become something of a ritual for our Sunday mornings. We’ve got about a 45-minute commute to our House of Worship, so we have some time to “game plan” every Sunday service from the point of the Worship Director.
On the Sunday in question, yes, my wife did indeed need help. Easter Sunday is one of the most beautiful and powerful days of the year for us as Believers, while at the same time quite stressful for church administrators. She began to list things to do: “You can set up the PowerPoint slides (as head of the tech team, I end up doing this a lot anyway) and then hang some new banners (need white instead of the dark purple from our Tenebrae Service) and then come down and help cook bacon and eggs if there’s room in the kitchen (fortunately, more capable hands than mine were doing just fine there).” Good thing our two-year old was not going to be around as Grandpa and Grandma were in town and would be bringing him later. His presence makes Sunday morning even more chaotic, though also more enjoyable at the same time.
As this recitation and the details of how to accomplish these things were drawing to a close, she looked at me and with a half-laugh said, “I’m sorry – I know I ask a lot of different things of you each week.” At that moment, I began to think of the role of the “utility man” in baseball. I am not sure why, though it may have had something to do with the fact that the Orioles would be coming back to Baltimore shortly to begin their season. Regardless, the utility man is a valuable piece to a baseball team – despite being one who does not have a defined role that they excel. Examples of such excellence include Roy Halladay of the Phillies as team ace; Albert Pujols of the Angels as clean-up hitter and Alex Rodrigues of the Yankees as a lighting rod for controversy. Instead, a utility man is a jack-of-all trades, able to fill in for multiple spots. When the starting 2nd baseman goes down, you will not find Halladay or Pujols sliding over to fill that spot. Rather, it will be a lesser known individual who was filling in for the left fielder the week before.
Usually, these players do not get much attention as they are not great players who pile up gaudy stats. Indeed the phrase “jack-of-all trades, master of none” could be used, though it is difficult to say that a major league baseball player is not a master of some sort. There value comes in their ability to fill in wherever needed. During our time in Baltimore I have become exceedingly familiar with the concept of the utility man as the Orioles have employed a number of such players every year – unfortunately there is such a thing as too many utility men for a major league baseball team.
However, I do not think that is the case for a church, as the “position” of utility man requires a willingness to serve – to be able to help out in any capacity that the team or in this case, church needs. I have seen many spouses of church leaders who are excellent in this role. Our last senior pastor’s wife took care of the books for the church and made sure the bills got paid in addition to many other services. As I have tried to mature as a husband to Katie, I have tried to model myself after these spouses who have not only accepted their places alongside a church leader, but embraced it and tried to contribute to the life of the church in any manner possible. Not all parishioners realize all that goes on between the hours of 8 AM on Monday morning and 8 AM on the next Sunday. The more people willing to help in this “utility man/woman” manner, the better the life and community of the church may become.
A passage from the book “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel about interfaith activity and cooperation strikes me as applicable here. The author, Muslim by birth, is describing how he came to learn about the Muslim value of service. While researching at Oxford under a Rhodes scholarship he had won, he was speaking to Azim Nanji, a director of the Institute of Ismaili studies in London concerning where the service ethos comes from. Nanji explained that one of mankind’s first acts before God was of service – Adam naming all of the different parts of creation as God brought them before him – in the Qu’ran, this is a contest between the angels and man. I had not thought about the corresponding Biblical passage in that light before, rather thinking of it as a privilege that God awarded man in his place as steward above all other creatures. The creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 is indeed a call to serve followed closely by man’s first act of service in Genesis 2. I believe this service ethos with its roots in the earliest moments following creation can be manifest in all of us in the way we approach our church lives (Christian or Muslim).
Thus, as this blog post is written to an audience of primarily church leaders and worship directors, I would like to encourage any spouses or significant others out there to see the chance to work alongside your loved one as both a fulfillment of the role of servant and a privilege. I think you will find that the two are closely intertwined, and exceedingly enjoyable.