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Bishop Paul's Diocesan Convention Address

Pretensions Die Hard

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
6 October 2011
Pretensions die hard, but help in nailing them sometimes comes from unexpected quarters.
One day some years ago I was putting things back in my locker in a hallway at the Jewish Community Center in Scranton.  I was dressed in my Fifth Avenue finest though without the suit jacket I would don later: Palm Beach wool suit from Duffy & Quinn on Fifth Avenue (of course), rabbat from Wippell’s trimmed with an Anglican collar, and a white shirt with French cuffs joined by gold cuff links: just a humble parish priest collecting anecdotes for inclusion in his own version of Journal d’un curé de campagne.  This is the same rig worn in my Diocesan Life photograph.
And a seven year-old Jewish boy dressed in black and white, as I was, and just beginning to sport fringes on his tallis and to sprout forelocks asked intrepidly, “Are you a waiter?”  “No,” I reactively thought, “not me.”  Then I thought my case would be hard to sell this little judge when he found out about my handling of patens, chalices, and purificators on special tables.  So, I actually said, “I guess in a way.”  Smiling, he showed his sense of success and ran to rejoin his group of friends who unlike him had passed me by.
The boy is something of a terror, I later learned.  The son of a rabbi, he asks tough questions of his teachers and adult supervisors as he did that day of me.  And while I didn’t like it at first, slowly I began to see something of the humor (from my perspective) of his determined inquisitiveness.
And the notion of the humor itself did not last long.  It melted and resolved itself rather quickly into what I think had happened.  I and my pretensions had been in his scrutiny placed in the balance and been found wanting.  This was tough to take.  I can’t just have my costume and exalted self-image at the same time?  Doesn’t the one require the other, and are they not part of the same thing?  What about all those Anglican priests in former times riding in the car with the deceased’s family with a nose in the breviary?  Were they not more self-aware than I was?
The answer of course is No.  We get to have our cake and to eat it, too, in fairy tales, dreams, and cartoons but not in real life where in ordinary circumstances we are accountable to each other on a very fundamental level before we arrive at the mature though none the less divisive specialties of denomination, theology, priesthood, sacrifice, belief, and a long list of other props that serve very well as barricades.
And just the other day I (in Anglican collar) was on the verge of asking someone a question that should’ve been asked of someone much closer by.  I hope to get it one day.
Pretensions indeed die hard, and we need the help God sends even if it be in the person of a little kid doing little kid things.


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