It is a known fact that Possums like to hide in the Kudzu, eating and grinning at the world.
The opossum is the only North American marsupial. The possum, as it is commonly called in the south, is a strange creature. It carries its young in a pouch. It is gray to black, has a pointed nose, feet that look like hands and has sharp, pointy little teeth. I have seen possums bear those teeth in an ugly grin and hiss, but I have never heard of a soul ever bitten. I am not sure, but don’t think that a possum has ever hurt a human.
I grew up in a land where people ate possums. They say they are greasy. I have never tried it. I have actually known people who boiled them in crawfish boil and ate them like seafood. Possums don’t have a place on my table. But, if you were a poor southerner and had nothing much to eat, a possum would do.
However, the possum does have a special meaning for me as a pastor. Yes they hang by their tails from tree limbs in unexpected places. And, yes they will invade your yard so that every dog in town barks, interrupting a good night’s sleep. One might compare a possum invasion to the nocturnal interruptions and emergencies that every pastor must face. But this is not the reason a possum means so much to me.
Possums remind me of the unexpected demands that ministry makes upon ministers, particularly in small churches. And I should clarify, it is the dead possum that inspires this preacher’s heart. I remember like it was this morning.
It was the beginning of a very hot summer day in South Louisiana, the place where I have carried out most of my ministry. It was Friday, my day off, my Sabbath, the day I intend to see no one, particularly church members. It is a day just for me to think and rest and enjoy a few minutes of life. The phone rings before seven which I vaguely hear. My wife answers, she is on her way to work. I hear her sweet voice saying, I am sure he can come over and fix it. I woke up.
It turned out that a deacon’s wife could not go out her back door because of a stench that was coming from her roof. Her husband is a traveling salesman and would not be home for some time. So, I got up, went over to check it out. I had to climb a ladder, I am not very good on ladders. I tend to fall off of them. I inspected her gutters and found that a possum had crawled under a brace, gotten stuck, and died.
I don’t like dead animals, particularly the kind that stink. I have a weak stomach, strong odors usually turn me inside out. However, it was my pastoral duty to help. So, I took a trash bag and used it like a glove. I grabbed the dead possum and, well, it pulled out of its skin and maggots were crawling everywhere. If the picture grosses you out, try to imagine being there.
I managed to get the entire dead possum out of the gutter and wrapped it in a plastic bag and put it in the garbage can. I was glad to help. However, later I stopped to think. I did not remember this being covered in seminary. There was nothing in my pastoral ministries courses about removing dead possums.
It dawned on me sometime later that this dead possum was a great symbol of ministry. I decided that I needed to start a Dead Possum Society for ministers who have had to do very odd things in their ministries. These are the things that they failed to mention in seminary. Once I had to unstop a toilet while a deacon watched. It seems he never learned to operate the business end of a plumber’s plunger.
Somehow unstopping toilets, changing light bulbs and making coffee for the congregation every Sunday seems mundane compared to retrieving dead possums from gutters. I have also developed a well-known ministry to computers. A quick visit to a home usually involves asking questions, giving answers, saying prayers and cleaning up the spyware on their computer. At least it is clean. My latest job has been tying neckties. Yes, in our casual society, many American males have lost the manly art of tying their own neckties. Of course, it is true that most of us pastors, on occasion, still wear suits.
So, I would tip my hat to all ministers everywhere if I wore one. You who pastor the smaller church will have great adventures that pastors of larger churches only dream of. You may help round up a farmer’s cattle for worming or plow a man’s cotton while he is sick. You may help rebuild a deacon’s car because he can’t afford to get it fixed. Or you may have the high privilege of retrieving the dead possum. Whatever special case yours may be, you have earned your place in the high court of the Dead Possum Society.