Saturday morning, the bobber on my toilet tank broke. The shut-off valve had corroded open and I couldn’t turn it, so the only way to stop the rush of water from overflowing the tank was to physically hold the bobber arm up. I was kind of in a rush, I was supposed to be picking up someone from the hospital, but instead I knelt on the bathroom floor, up to my elbows in the toilet tank, thinking, “which day did they teach us how to fix this in seminary…”
The fact is, they didn’t. No theologian that I have yet read had anything useful to say on how to solve a plumbing crisis. Home (parsonage, building) repair is not covered in seminary. Nor is pancake making for fifteen, how to get wax out of the carpet, or writing a personnel manual. Ministry, as it turns out, is 5% things they taught you in seminary, and 95% think-on-your-feet.
That is what internship is for, to teach you that you have no idea what you’re doing, and to give you the tools to work through it anyway. That morning, upset and out of options that didn’t involve my arm, I called the associate pastor, who explained how to tie a mug to a string to hold the bobber arm up. This did not solve the problem, but it gave me enough time and space to think through an actual solution. More importantly, it reminded me that I was not alone. What had felt like me and the bobber arm, was suddenly me, her, and the bobber arm. Her advice broke through my focus and allowed me to move beyond the immediacy of the crisis to see the wider picture. I found and adjusted a tiny screw, and the bobber now works better than ever. Thanks be to God for colleagues who move us beyond ourselves, indoor plumbing, and sermon illustrations in unexpected places.