May 30, 2010

The Idea of Being On Time

In the ministry we are taught that we need to be aware of our own assumptions about things. One of my own that I have to revise is my concept of being 'on time.'

For whatever reason or combination of factors, I came into this world with the following idea of what it meant to be on time:

If an event is to occur at time t, then you arrive at the location of the event at time t - n, where n is the time it takes to be ready for the event to begin. For example, if I had a class at 10 am, I would try to arrive by 9:55 at the latest, so as to have time to take out my textbook, find my pencil, etc. Thus, I would be all set to have the class begin at 10. If I arrived for the 10 am class at 10 am, I would not consider myself to be on time, because I would have not prepared myself and my things for paying attention and participation.

I have come to realize that this is a minority opinion; for most people, it seems that being on time means showing up at time t. This means, of course, that the event in question can't actually start until t + n. To me this seems like starting late, but this feeling is not shared by everybody.

And there are other concepts besides. One Sunday I had a baptism service at 2 pm. It was the last service of the day. I prayed with the folks, preached briefly, and baptized their child. It took about twenty minutes. Then I cleaned up, filed the paperwork in the parish office, changed my clothes, and decided to go out for a walk. I went out through the church because I had not yet said Daytime Prayer. When I walked out of the church it was about ten minutes to three. Some folks were coming in. Perplexed to see nothing going on, they asked me about a baptism service that was supposed to have happened at two. "The service takes an hour, so we are still on time," they said. To them the concept of being on time meant showing up anytime before the end of the event!

I say all this not to rehearse stereotypes or indulge in idle reflection, but to say that I now understand why priests arrive late for things. I used to find this to be one of the most irritating characteristics of the clergy, but now I understand. After three years in the parish ministry (as of tomorrow), I wouldn't even think of showing up for a wedding rehearsal until at least a few minutes past the scheduled time. The same goes, with a little less force, for wakes and meetings and appointments in general. You're going to have wait for people anyway, so why give them permission to waste your time?

Good boundaries in ministry, as in life, often consist in noticing and avoiding the subtle ways we needlessly give other people control over our feelings, time, and opportunity.

So I try not to judge people on things that I might later understand or even do myself.


Barb, sfo said...

I have the same idea as you do when it comes to being "on time"--there needs to be a little wiggle room to allow for preparation or whatever. But I have not gotten to the point where I can allow myself to be deliberately late because I know I'll be waiting for all the others who can't get there on time, never mine early.
I think your way allows for a lot more serenity--good for you!

caedmon said...

While I give myself and others permission to be less than perfect, I, too, consider "on time" to mean "on time."

I lead a weekly ecumenical worship service for an urban mission. We often have 5-10 people at the start of the service and 30-40, 10 minutes late. I'm getting pressure to start the service late so that those who come late won't miss anything, but I'm stubbornly holding out.

I might have more patience (and maybe this is the real issue - my lack of patience) if the same people who want me to start late weren't the ones who complain the loudest when I don't finish the service promptly "on time."

kkollwitz said...

I am the same. Being on time is an important way to show respect.

I understand that Mormons, whose symbol is the beehive, regard being a few minutes early as being 'on time.'

Brother Charles said...

I like Mormons, and I like them more now.

When I had a little side job as occasional dishwasher at a soup kitchen, I was sometimes given another volunteer to help set up or unload. I always loved when I got a Mormon. They were always good workers.