3/11/2010 YEAR FOR PRIESTS Q&A Pastor readjusts after military time
PETER FEUERHERD Correspondent
Rev. John Close, 57, is pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in New Lebanon and its mission church, St. Joseph's in Stephen-town. He was ordained for the Diocese of Albany in 1982.
When and why did you realize you wanted to become a priest?
It goes way, way back. I was an altar server [at St. Joseph's in Stephentown]. The enthusiasm was from that period, when I was 10-12 years old. As my life unfolded, it was a matter of when I would be ordained, not if.
Who was your inspiration when you were growing up?
My godmother and aunt, the late Jane Janbrow, was a heavy influence. A lot of my activity within the Church came from her.
How did your parents feel about your decision?
Initially, there wasn't a great deal of enthusiasm. But that changed over time. On my mother's side, there was an understanding and expectation. My father didn't understand what was going on...to some extent, it was the shock. Outwardly, they wouldn't have [expected] that degree of involvement with the Church. A lot of it was internal: My whole direction in schooling was in engineeering. I did get my engineering degree.
You returned a year ago after serving as a naval chaplain in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. How was that?
It was some of the best ministry I've done in my life. You have young people doing some very hard work [and who have] phenomenal needs. There is a great need for Catholic chaplains. We are really short of chaplains in all the services. Some bases I visited hadn't seen a chaplain in three or four months.
Was it tough making the transition back to civilian life?
The biggest adjustment is to the abundance of what is around us here. There is still a certain level of discomfort to walk into a store and see shelves of ev-erything, having been in an area where what people own [is] what they are carrying. Even our own military personnel, when you are deployed you don't have an awful lot with you.
You also have to adjust from having the vigilance you need when you are deployed. In that area of the world, you have to develop an attitude of situational awareness that you are not safe, to be aware of your surroundings. There's a definite change with someone who's been deployed. You don't come back to the same place. The role of a chaplain is to help people make the transition. We make it ourselves as well.
Have your expectations when you were ordained been met?
A lot of what I hoped to do as a priest, I have done. When I look back on it, I feel very fulfilled. To have the choice before me again, I would without hesitation do the same thing.
What would you have done differently?
I would have been a chaplain much earlier. It was a very fulfilling ministry for me. My age is against me continuing that at this time.
What's been the hardest part of your vocation?
The administrative work as a pastor that has to be done. If I could get away from administrative work, it would be a great life. You need to do a lot of paperwork and oversight. Tangent-ially, it's ministerial, but for me it's not giving people the nourishment that priesthood is supposed to give.
What's been easiest?
The liturgies and the preaching. It's still preparation and a fair amount of time reflecting on the readings. But now it flows in a way that years back it didn't. It's an area where you feel you are making an impact with people.
What do you do for fun?
I've got a great diversity of interests. One is historic re-creation, particularly the early colonial period of the U.S. At Plymouth, Mass., I've done a variety of roles [in reenactments].
What sacrament gives you the greatest peace? Why?
The Eucharist is extremely important to me. There is no way to put into words this feeling of celebrating the Eucharist when everything comes together in all aspects. Every liturgy and every Mass is unique. Also, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a truly humbling experience. As priests, we enter into the sacrament with the sense that we are sinners ourselves, and yet through this vocation we are the stand-in for Jesus Himself. One of the disappointments of my priesthood is that more people are not coming to take advantage of the sacrament.
What do you most want others to know about being a priest?
I can't think of anything else that has so much to offer to the priest himself and the people he comes in contact with. It's so phenomenal to be able to do this.
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