October 3, 2015
The pastor of the church I attended as a young man was a distinguished, dignified and always impeccably dressed man who also happened to have a warm and compassionate heart. He was so formal and well-groomed that newcomers would expect this tall, handsome man with a PhD from an Ivy League school serving a large, affluent suburban church to be cold and distant. But he wasn’t; he was warm and sincere.
Then I had one lesson in how he remained that way.
I signed on to serve as Scripture reader, and on the first Sunday sat on a chair behind the pastor’s podium. It was rather large, semi-circular pulpit with a chair directly behind it. The pastor entered and sat down. He was, as always, impeccably dressed: blue pinstriped business suit, silk tie carefully knotted, starched white shirt with cufflinks, and on his feet, black shoes polished like mirrors. This was not a man who wore a Rolex or drove a Porsche. But he was always careful to dress well, from his pocket handkerchief to his tiepin.
Then, just before the sermon, I watched the pastor reach down and untie both of his expensive leather dress shoes. He slid his feet out of them, and then reached under the cuffs of his tailored suit. He pulled off his black dress socks as well. I was completely bewildered. He then pushed both shoes and socks to the side and stood up for his sermon. No one else knew it, but our dignified, dapper, classy pastor preached his sermon barefoot, in his tailored suit and silk tie.
When the sermon was over, he unobtrusively pulled on both shoes and socks, and left the podium.
I said nothing and just assumed he had reasons of his own. Perhaps his feet hurt? I forgot about it, especially as it did not happen again for the next few Sundays.
Then, two months later, I noticed the pastor sliding his feet out of a pair of spit-polished tasseled loafers, followed again by the socks. I was again confused and slightly amused by the contrast between the fancy business suit and the soles of his bare feet which appeared when he leaned forward with enthusiasm.
After the service ended, I went up to the still barefoot minister and respectfully asked why he did this.
The pastor looked slightly embarrassed, picked up the shoes and socks and told me a story from his student years:
“My seminary professor told me I was a fine preacher, but that I had one fault. I was too arrogant. Too proud. I remembered that. And I remember my roots, too.”
He then told me that he had grown up as a janitor’s son and took his shoes off when he visited his Dad. Those were his roots. In the years since, he had earned several degrees and his gifts had brought him to this church. He was successful and praised, but he never wanted to forget where he came from.
“Whenever I start getting too proud and smug, I look down at my shiny Brooks Brothers shoes and fancy socks and realize it’s time to take off my “successful well-dressed suit-and-tie pastor” feet and put on the feet of a janitor’s boy. It keeps me humble. It’s hard to be smug when I’m barefoot.”
And with that the pastor grinned, put on his Italian tasseled shoes and socks and left the pulpit.
by: Ken Wells © 2004