She yanked me from my seat while I was still eating.
“You should be going around to every table, speaking to everyone! You need to speak to Eddie!”
It was the harvest festival lunch. Church members were sat around tables in the hall, consuming chicken salad. A family had invited me to sit with them at their table for the meal, and I had accepted. I was enjoying spending a prolonged time getting to know them.
But she didn’t approve. Ministers should be working the room. It was what her husband, a retired minister, had always done. And that was the only way to be a minister. His extravert ways of glad-handing everyone, each person getting thirty precious seconds, were what came naturally to him. She didn’t think any other pattern was acceptable.
Being the strong introvert I am, small talk is unnatural to me. It feels trivial. Maybe it isn’t for extraverts. I want to spend significant amounts of time with people, so that I can know them more deeply. That’s what I was doing with the family who had invited me to share their table.
The problem goes way beyond one woman auditioning for the Wicked Witch Of The West. In some churches, this attitude is endemic. Even in kind and caring churches, I’ve known the introverted minister misinterpreted as aloof, because he wasn’t incessantly networking after the Sunday morning service.
So – what to do about it? When I reflected later on my experiences at Yanked Out Of My Seat church, I realised the congregation had unspoken assumptions about what a minister was like. They assumed a minister would talk to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. This was their stereotype. But it only fits extraverts. As an introvert, with a lot going on in my interior world to stimulate me, it doesn’t take a lot of social interaction to overload my circuits. On the other hand, an extravert, for whom the energy is happening in the external world, will relish this church’s assumptions.
Therefore I decided that when I left this church I would be explicit about my personality. I even declared my Myers Briggs personality type on my profile. Those who understood these things would know what I was saying, and those for whom the four letters of Myers Briggs were code for Alan Turing to decipher could ask about it. And if the subject didn’t come up, I would see if I could say something about it.
Am I in a happier place now? Pretty much yes. Here, people largely welcome a quiet, thoughtful minister.
I still care, even though I shall never be the kind of pastoral visitor one of my college tutors said we should all be: visiting at least five people every afternoon. I specialise in the big stuff: deaths, terminal illnesses, explorations of vocation. The fifteen-minute flying visit will never be me, although I know my extravert colleagues can do it and make people valued.