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Sunday Reflections: How to recognize a reverend

The dental hygienist was a new employee whom I’d not met.

“Where do you preach?” she asked.

“Why do you think I’m a preacher?” I responded.

“I just know,” she said.

I’ve wondered what the signal flag was.

Maybe it was the coffee stains on my teeth. Pastors must drink coffee since people often invite us to do so — coffee and conversation.

My dad had ulcers and we didn’t grow up drinking coffee. Ruth Barnes one day said, “I can’t believe our pastor doesn’t drink coffee! Come to my house.” I drank coffee for the first time at her kitchen table. It tasted bitter to me. She then added sweetener and cream, and it tasted better. I was 30 years old when this happened and got hooked.

I later used this as an illustration of how the devil makes sin appear sweet and attractive, and everyone, including Ruth, had a good laugh.

Maybe the hygienist didn’t see tobacco stains and this was a clue. Smoking has never been one of my chosen sins, though I’ve known a handful of pastors who smoked. I suppose they thought they could hide it, but not so much.

One of my mentors smoked a pipe in his office. When you knocked on his door you could hear the desk drawer open where he hid the burning pipe, and then hear him spray air freshener in the room. You walked into the aroma of fresh pine or whatever. I thought this was a lot of bother. He should’ve just told people he used a pipe.

Nor did I wear any particular preacher clothes to the dentist’s office.

One of my Judson College colleagues, an Episcopalian rector, often wore his clerical collar. We Baptists don’t have such identifying clothing, especially these days.

I remember when pastors and staff at least wore a tie to work, if not a full suit or blazer. One of my associates told about how expensive it was to be a church staff member due to this expectation. Fortunately now we can dress professionally, but casually, during the week.

And the pulpit dress code has changed. My generation was taught to wear your “Sunday best” to church, and I still wear a suit on Sundays. But I think I could go “tie-less” one Sunday and nobody would care. I hear that some younger preachers wear skinny jeans and tee-shirts in the pulpit, so it’s even more true that clothes don’t identify a preacher.

So the mystery continues as to how this young lady knew my secret identity.

The late John Bisagno said, “Live as so no one would suspect you’re a preacher but wouldn’t be surprised if you were.”

Not bad advice.

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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