When I was at my first full time position as a priest, I encountered several people who accused me of being inflexible. It struck me as odd, because I am not the intransigent sort. Opinionated at times, yes! Intransigent, no. (One of the things about being flexible is that when you HAVE been flexible no one knows it, because you’ve already shifted a position or decision that is in accord with another’s views or wishes.)
When my boss made mention of it to me, I began to catch on. He was a very loosy-goosy type priest, and by that I mean that he wasn’t particular or fussy about following church traditions or protocols. To him, the fact that he showed up and did his job was good enough, the rest were nothing more than fussy details.
Sometimes that attitude works just fine, and I also confess that while working with him I loosened up a bit in some areas that warranted loosening. But because in the church there ARE certain things that are suited to order and routine, I was the stickler who maintained the order.
One story illustrates how the perception of inflexibility took root. It was nearing Christmas, and on this particular year Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. What that means in terms of a liturgical church is that the fourth Sunday of Advent (a purple season, in terms of liturgical color use) would be celebrated that morning, and that evening we would hold the first celebration of Christmas (a white season). That Saturday the altar guild began to decorate the church for the Christmas season, and one of the women implored me, “Can’t we just go ahead and set up for Christmas (meaning, set out the white hangings and other worship appointments that change color according to the season)”? It would spare them lingering after church Sunday morning to make the changes, and with multiple services already that day because of Christmas Eve, they would be plenty busy. I said no. In the morning we were celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent—we were still in Advent! We would set up accordingly.
That wasn’t inflexibility, it was maintaining order. Though many in the pews wouldn’t have noticed the error, one of the appeals of Anglicanism to many people is the ordered and ritualized way that we live our corporate life. There were just as many people who would have noticed, and half of them would have said something!
I don’t know why it is that standing one’s ground is equated with inflexibility, but in some people’s minds, it is. My capacity for flexibility became something of a joke between me and Kathy. On one occasion she gifted me with a bible, and the card that came with it had descriptive words all over the front highlighting positive character attributes. It begins, “You are terrific, charming, dashing, bright, talented, funny, warm, sensitive, kind…” and that’s just the first of about fifty lines of adjectives! When you opened the card, she added the words, “and flexible!” The card is taped inside that bible, which I keep at my desk.
Now, just don’t ask if I can touch my toes. I’ve never been flexible in that way!