My former Head of Staff and I used to sardonically observe that deaths in the congregation came in bunches. Whenever someone would pass, my boss and I would spend the next couple of days looking sideways at one another, waiting for news of another, silently eyeing our calendars with dread. It was eerie how often that news came.

It isn’t limited to death. I am noticing deaths accompanied by diagnoses and hospitalizations on all sides these days, going back to the end of August. I share this not to be grim but to point out that our work happens in the midst of all this and most of the time cannot account for it in advance. My “September Calendar” Bullet Journal page did not contain any funerals or midnight emergency room phone calls, and yet those things were prominent features both of the work the month required and of the climate in which I did all the other September stuff.

I think that made my work better.

Our preaching and planning, teaching and organizing are only sometimes addressed directly to contexts of human frailty, accompanying people in and speaking to encounters with mortality. Yet the rest of the time the specter of illness and death lurks behind projects that are otherwise future facing and hopeful–Confirmation retreats and session meetings.

I wonder if that doesn’t make those projects stronger. I wonder if seasons of heavy contact with all manner of human deficiency don’t lend perspective and humanity to our attempts to project strength and health.