Call me Uber-Priest. Lately, I feel a bit like the part-time car service that is in competition with taxi drivers who work regular shifts. You see, I don’t have a full time parish assignment since I am officially “retired from active ministry” but, like most retired priests in our diocese, I help out whenever and wherever there is a need.
Unlike the Uber drivers who might get sneers from licensed taxi drivers, we are not in competition with clergy who are assigned to parishes. Pastors love us. We are there to help them. When parish priests need to take a day off, or go on vacation, or attend a retreat, or workshop, all those things necessary for a sane, healthy, holy and renewed priesthood, we retirees get called to celebrate Masses. The phone also rings when priests get ill, hospitalized or even when they go on extended sick leaves. If we do not cause any problems for the local priests, we get invited back.
The key to getting a high rating is to do things the way the parish does them. When asked how I want this or that at Mass, my response is, “Whatever you normally do, I will do. I am a guest here!”
The experience of being what I call “Uber Priest” is different from being assigned to a specific parish. This month alone, I have celebrated Masses in seven different churches, missions and chapels in four different parishes. This is in addition to celebrating weekly Eucharist in each of four compounds at a state prison.
Full disclosure: we are compensated when we help in parishes. The diocese sets a remuneration scale for celebrating Masses and hearing confessions, and our gas tanks are also compensated. This helps the retired priests who also receive a pension from the diocese as well as a living allowance. We also have a good health plan. The diocese takes good care of us.
There is an advantage to proclaiming God’s word to a known community. When we are preaching and can see the faces of our parishioners and know many of their stories —the joys, the hardships, the challenges, the blessings, the pains. We feel the connection of the Scriptures to real life. When I visit other parishes, I may know some of the faces and situations but, for the most part, the people in front of me are strangers.
Since we visiting priests are not “in charge,” as we listen to concerns of parishioners after Mass about the parish, we are able to smile and say, “Be sure to call the office and let the pastor know about that.”
After all, there has to be some benefit in the so-called Golden Years!
In every parish I visit, I meet the dedicated people who, along with all the other liturgical ministers, work behind the scenes as sacristans and coordinators. We Uber Priests love them. They are the ones who welcome us, direct us and help us know when gifts are presented, when collections are taken, when announcements are made — all the little things that a presiding celebrant needs to know for good liturgy without distractions and confusion.
So, if you see a retired diocesan priest visiting in your parish, he probably has a big smile on his face since it’s a joy to be able to be of service and to be part of, if only for a short period of time, your thriving parish community.
Father Aigner is in residence at St. Francis de Sales Church in Salisbury, Md.