Inner City Diary
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It's too late to be stereotypical man of the cloth
November 18, 2001
The kids were waiting for an answer.

The question was posed by a 3rd grade class at a local elementary school. “What does a minister do?”

Most of them knew me from seeing me in the neighborhood, but weren’t exactly sure what I did.

I tried to explain. “I’m like a lot of other people who believe in God, try to figure out how he feels about things, and then try doing something about it.” I reviewed the standard tasks like preaching, doing weddings and funerals. Then I got into the other stuff like chasing criminals, visiting hospitals and prisons, building houses, trying to help people who are in trouble. They looked like they understood.

But there were times I didn’t understand.

There were times I figured it was about having a big church with lots of people. But if that’s the measure of success, our dinky little church on Maryland would be a constant reminder of failure. I remember reading how-to books by pastors of big churches and crying when I reached the end because I knew I would never be like them.

There were times I figured it was about being a great example. The stereotypical preacher, complete with righteous aura. Polished halo. Perfectly gracious in attitude and speech. That didn’t last long either!

It was a quiet July night on Ellice Avenue in 1986. I quit working late and fell asleep quickly. Our one-and-a-half year old was sleeping in the next room. Virginia was sleeping too, pregnant with twins. A muffled thump against the house woke me up. Right about where I left a ladder after a hard day’s work. Listening more carefully, I heard someone trying a window. For awhile it was quiet. Then I heard breaking glass.

In retrospect, it surprises me how quickly fear turned to anger. I didn’t think like a minister, I reacted like an angry husband and dad. I forgot my last sermon on peace, love and happiness. I was ticked off about some person or people breaking into our house to steal what little we had. Old reflexes returned as I grabbed a butcher knife and headed down the stairs. Virginia called 911.

Virginia was still on the phone, convincing 911 to take us seriously, when she looked out the window and saw me laying on top of a guy in our backyard with a knife to his throat.

He said, “Go ahead and cut me. I’m high. I won’t even feel it. My girlfriend broke up with me. I don’t care.” His words flipped a switch in my brain. It was like a tag in the WWF. The vigilante got out of the ring so the preacher could get back in. I began explaining to him how much he needed Jesus. I explained that I wasn’t born a preacher. That I was headed toward the same dead end back in New York. Testimony time - with a knife to his throat.

The cops arrived. I hid the knife because I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t the victim. My newest parishioner ran to the cops, saying, “get me away from this lunatic.”

Months later, I went to his trial, wanting to encourage the judge to go easy on him if he had taken steps to get better. His lawyer was reading from the “defending the victim” script. “My client (insert name) came from a poor home, a rough family, malingering friends and was a victim of his addictions. He actually thought it was his home and was just trying to gain access after realizing his key didn’t fit.”

I wanted to barf. The judge, thankfully, wouldn’t accept a lame defense. A sentence was issued. Time was served. Over a year later I was paid what it cost to replace the basement window.

Once again, I was reminded that I would not be the kind of minister I read about in seminary. But, in the end, I’m thankful to be in this dinky little West End church. With people I love. Not perfect, but trying to do better.

With people just like me.

I’m starting to understand what being a minister is all about.

Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Contact info:
New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929
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