One of the things that I learnt during my very short Army career in 1988 was the concept of "hurry up and wait". To the uninitiated, this usually onvolves being put under HUGE pressure to be at a certain place at a specific time, only to hang around picking your nose for two hours waiting for things to get underway.
Today it seemed that with the advent of the New South Africa and the demise of National Service, this "hurry up and wait" doctrine had become orphaned - and adopted with glee by the Methodist Church - as we hung around waiting for an 8-seater Venture to shuttle back and forth ferrying nearly 80 of us to a local childrens' home for our weekly field work slot, which is part of our ministerial training at seminary.
And speaking of fieldwork, I must confess to being somewhat uncomfortable at the decision by the "powers that be" that we wear clerical clothing when going out for field work. If you can picture 20 bewildered kids having 80 penguins bearing down on them, looking back at us like hares caught in the headlights, and you'll understand my unease. Besides, clericals are not exactly the ideal attire for playing "horsey" with toddlers or kicking a football around in 40-degree heat, but "ours is not to question why..."
However, every excursion is meant to provide an opportunity to learn something new, and today taught me another useful thing that one can do with a dog-collar. Thus far, in the 14 months that I have been in ministry, I have discovered that collars make great bookmarks (which also helps straighten them out), are useful for picking bits of biltong out from between one's teeth, and provide a more hygienic way of scraping doggie-do of your shoe (ideally not the same bit of Tupperware you use for the biltong removal!).
And now (drum roll please), I've found that they make great chew-toys for one-year-olds who are teething! Talk about a novel ice-breaker for ministry! Thankfully I was able to retrieve my collar before being slapped with a disciplinary charge for inappropriate attire, with it being covered in baby spit but otherwise still perfectly serviceable as a device designed to choke aspirant clergy into a sense of humility.
So although the afternoon may have seemed like a dead loss, with the only "official" tasks being the taking of roll call and most of us being crapped out for not wearing our name tags, I managed to at least be a bit useful with me being able to relieve a tot's itchy gums with bits of my uniform, and then drawing on maths work that I last looked at nearly 30 years ago to help a young girl with her homework. If these two children saw even a glimpse of Jesus this afternoon, then something worthwhile was achieved after all.
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