As I approach my retirement date, I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve changed over the years as a priest.
When I was first ordained, I was vividly aware of being a priest. I wore my collar everywhere, and I was very conscious of the fact that I was a man of God in the view of the public. It’s quite a strain to live up to that high expectation. I remember wondering, “What if people find out that I’m a fraud? I’m just Bill Fulton. I’m not a saint.”
As time went on, I began to relax. I found out that although I’m a priest and a man of God, at the same time, I’m just Bill Fulton. I’m a human being with flaws. Rather than having to apologize for that, however, I began to realize that my greatest strength is just to be myself.
I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am and just be myself in my encounters with others. My greatest gift is connecting with people, and when I bring my authentic self, I do that best. That means I’ve had to learn to let go of judgment, control, and a lot of ego in my journey as a priest and a person. It hasn’t always been easy.
As Vicar of the congregation, I’ve always been aware of my responsibility to nurture the parish and help it succeed. When we’re thriving, I’m happy. But there’s always a nagging worry, “What if it falls apart? What if people drift away? What if we run out of money?” Over time, I’ve learned that it’s not just up to me. It’s up to all of us. I’ve had to learn to hand that over to God. After all, it’s God’s church, not mine.
One of my personality traits is that I want to please people. It’s not a bad personality trait for a pastor who works with people, but it causes me considerable anxiety when I have to bring up uncomfortable truths or institute changes. One of the best pearls of wisdom I’ve received was from our matriarch, Jane Stockwell. She told me, “You’ll never be able to please everyone.” How right she was.
One of the joys of being a pastor for me is the many relationships I’m entrusted with. I’m fascinated by human beings. I love hearing peoples’ stories and learning about their life journeys. Hospital visits, home visits, baptisms, weddings, burials and counseling have brought me into close contact with people, and I’ve found that rich and rewarding.
Administration, on the other hand, is not one of my gifts. I couldn’t administer my way out of a paper bag. I’m in perpetual danger of missing a meeting, forgetting a phone call, or blowing by a deadline. Volunteer management and event organizing are complete mysteries to me. Luckily, I’ve had the help of a great secretary who has saved me from my worst disasters.
Every priest has strong points and weak points. There are some things I’ve done well, and some things I’ve flopped at. I’ve learned to accept that. I’ve tried to lean into my strengths, and find ways to compensate for my weaknesses.
It’s a great privilege to be a priest and a pastor, and over the years I’ve grown into my role as a priest. I’ve become more confident and more at ease in my role as the shepherd of the flock, thanks to the trust given to me by so many people. I’m grateful for that trust. Thank you for allowing me to be your priest.