Parson – from Latin persona, meaning “person”
Parsonage – from Latin, a house where a “person” lives
For a pastor, the deepest levels of satisfaction and intimacy in a parish occur when others realize the pastor is a person, and this person (parson) is not immune from personal tragedies, or heartache, or even despair. The pastor is a person with hopes and dreams, loves and fears, joys and tears. This revelation is not easily obtained (pastors resist, too) – and the becoming is often hidden behind many masks, false identities and plagiarized identifications.
For these reasons and more, not every pastor becomes a person (parson).
Some pastors choose to remain incognito – disguised behind thin layers of superiority or inferiority, behind cardboard and cliché, always dressed up in the costumes of resident sage, spiritual guide, exemplar of the faith.
Other pastors cannot break free of the costumes that their congregations force them to wear. Wherever they go, whoever they are or hope to be – they must always wear the official face, the accepted expression and the expected attire.
Still other pastors attempt to masquerade as pastors, but deep-down they know they are persons – and the game begins to eat away at the seams that are holding their costumes together. They are moth-ridden, or torn, and in time their exterior begins to drop away in tattered swatches, exposing them for who they really are, or want to be. But they are embarrassed at being a person, and some are more comfortable playing the part than exposing their vulnerabilities.
It’s difficult for a pastor to become a person.
And often it is difficult to find a parish who will allow a person to be a pastor. Many congregations prefer the masquerade, the slight-of-hand artist, the make-believe.
Pastors who become persons in the parish are rare. But when other persons accept the pastor as a person, all are set free. The people realize they have a person in their midst. This is a person who feels, who cares – not an imaginary hero or a performance artist. A person might understand, might actually listen. A person would not offer platitudes or scripted lines. A person might cry, or sit by a bedside, or laugh. A person would be real.
When the pastor becomes a person, there are other people in the parish who decide to become persons, too. Some people will make the decision to change out of their masquerade costumes, to remove their masks, to allow others to see their scars – which are real, not pasted on for show – and they will walk the earth upright, and look at themselves in the mirror. Some will admit – even after years of denying it – I am a person. God loves me. I am tired of living a lie.
Pastors who become persons can have this effect on other people. The church knew this centuries ago. Pastors, back then, were called parsons – who were persons. We should all be so blessed.
Todd Outcalt is becoming a person at Calvary UMC in Brownsburg, Ind., and hopes he is helping other people to become persons, too. He is a person who loves the Lord, his wife and kids, who writes, hikes, kayaks and drinks too much coffee. He is a person who writes books, but also writes science fiction, mysteries, romance, poetry, and lots of stuff about Jesus who is, of course, the finest person he knows.