When I was in seminary, I was one of those part-time students whose day job was spent writing jingles and ad campaigns in one of Philly’s ad agencies.
I remember one of my more creative seminary professors gave us an assignment to create a campaign announcing the Second Coming of Christ.
Here was the deal…
Jesus has returned. He’s coming to a town near you. Prepare the campaign to let the masses know the Messiah is back.
As the one ad guy in a sea of seminarians, I was going to ace this baby!
To my delight and surprise, my classmates and I came up with some pretty groovy ideas.
There was the idea of replacing the Four Horses of the Apocalypse with the Budweiser Clydesdales. A re-write of the Ten Commandments to the “Holy Top Five.” Re-creating the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, sponsored by McDonald’s and the Filet-O-Fish.
Admittedly, we went a little overboard. But, that little exercise pales in comparison to the frenzy around Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families.
There were Pope Francis bobbleheads. Pope Francis Bleacher Creatures. Pope Francis t-shirts, bumper stickers and tchotchkes of every kind.
But papal schwag aside, for me this papal visit represented one of the rarest opportunities to work as a media volunteer behind the scenes at the World Meeting of Families held in Philadelphia this past September.
As a United Methodist deacon who has spent years in advertising and PR, it has been my privilege to use my communications skills in the name of service – regardless of the setting. With this, I was assigned to work in the Press Filing Center interacting with media from all over the world. The highlight was that I had been designated to be one of a handful of individuals to receive Pope Francis at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary which served as his residence during his stay.
To my dismay, the assignment fell apart.
On the night before, I was notified that the Secret Service had pulled the credentials of all media volunteers and would limit the access to an even more select group with the Pope – which wouldn’t include me.
I have to admit, I was extremely disappointed.
But, God always finds a way to fulfill His purpose in the midst of our disappointment.
So, instead of donning my clerical collar to be in the splendor of the Pope’s residence, I laced up my sneakers, put on a t-shirt and served behind the scenes as I was needed.
I didn’t get to see the Pope…wave at the papal procession…or show my Philly pride with the thousands of others who were part of this historic occurrence. But serving in a sea of humanity like that was as gratifying as anything else I could have imagined.
So many of those who attended the events around the papal visit did so as spectators – caught up in the hype that might make us miss the spiritual power that moments like this represents.
Pope Francis has provided a breath of fresh spiritual air in so many ways. He wades into crowds with a vigor that shocks even his security detail. He challenges the church in ways that continue to push it beyond its traditional confines and levels of comfort. He’s called for such “radical” ideas of forgiveness, absolution, compassion and empathy that has compelled the church to take action after years of conflict.
However, the greatest impact of this visit may be on what we as individuals do – long after the spotlight fades. Fighting for the poor. Raising voices for the voiceless. Speaking truth to power with courage and conviction.
No lights. No camera. Just action. Christ would have it no other way.
By the Rev. David W. Brown
The Rev. David W. Brown, a deacon in full connection, is a United Methodist pastor who works, agitates and writes in Philadelphia. He serves at Wesley-Wharton UMC.