Tuesday, June 25, 2013
An Interview with the Rev. James B. Pratt: Musician, Attorney and Priest
In this interview, St. Philip's own Father Jim (aka the Rev. James Pratt) recounts his early religious life and his education. He also discusses his personal story about how he became an Anglican priest and he reflects on his work as a corporate attorney.
Richard: Could you give us a brief synopsis of your religious experience?
Father Jim: Growing up I don't remember much about Sunday School except that I preferred being upstairs in the church rather than downstairs in Sunday School because I liked the music. In high school my family had drifted away from the church though I was taking piano lessens from the church organist and I joined the hand bell choir. So the only time that I was went to church was when the hand bell choir was playing maybe once a month. But during that time I went to a Roman Catholic high school so I had religion as part of the curriculum there. It was during my senior year in high school, the second semester of my senior year I was exposed to spiritual direction with one of the nuns. That really was the beginning of an intimate personal relationship with God. From there I went on to university and looking to develop my relationship [with God] I became involved with the Episcopal church. I became active in the Church went on Encounter which is the youth version of a retreat. I also became involved in leadership which gave me a chance to explore my faith with others who were like minded.
Richard: What is it that attracted you to law and where did you study?
Father Jim: My interest in the law started back in high school, one high school teacher in particular steered me in that direction...[I thought] it would be a way to use my abilities...I grew up in a family where education was valued. This view coalesced as I completed my undergraduate degree in economics. I studied at the University of Chicago and I really enjoyed the law school experience, particularly the very rigorous academics. Part of the philosophy of the Law School at [the University of] Chicago was the interaction of the law with other disciplines. I was particularly interested in looking at how the law interacts and involves other aspects of society.
Richard: Could you tell us a bit about your experience practicing law?
Father Jim: After I graduated from law school I went back to my home town of Boston and joined a mid-sized firm in downtown Boston practicing in the corporate and real-estate department dealing with everything from residential deals to multi-million dollar corporate real-estate deals. While I enjoyed practicing law and did fairly well at it, I was also active in my local parish, as a member ot the choir, lay reader, clerk of the Vestry, warden, scout master and volunteer worker. The Parish was where my heart was.
Richard: How did you go from being active in the church to committing your life to being a priest?
Father Jim: It certainly was not a Damascus Road experience. In my senior year of college going into the ministry first entered my mind, but I was already well into the law school application process. So I just shoved it into the back of my mind, graduated from law school and quickly joined the choir. I don't remember how it came about but the priest asked me if I would be the officiate at evensong. Afterwards one of the church elders asked me if I was studying to be a minister. From there one of the parents of the boy scouts on a camping trip with us asked if I was in the ministry (they did not know that I was a lawyer). Other members of the parish also said that I should be a priest. So I had to start listening to their voices because God was telling me something. Then the priest sat down with me and said I think you really need to consider this. So that started really a process of several years thinking about it praying about it and talking to other people about it asking why do you think I should be a priest. Listening to God and tgrying to hear what God was saying to me.
Richard: That is fascinating, perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about that. You describe your relationship to God as being heard in the voices of other people. I think a lot of our readers would be interested in knowing more about that.
Father Jim: People often talk to God and ask God for things. I think it is important to realize that prayer should be a conversation, part of which involves listening to God. It is not only in that time of quiet with God, hearing voices. God does not always speak to us that way. Being aware of how God speaks to us through other people and through the events of our lives. Most of us don't see the burning bush like Moses and have the burning bush talk to us. Most of us are not like the disciples on the shores of Galilee where Jesus comes us and says "come follow me." God talks to us in a much more subtle ways. Even in the Bible, God did not talk directly to David so much but talked through Nathan and through others. So I think we need to listen around us for the messages that God is giving us.
Richard: How has your legal background helped you as a priest?
Father Jim: All the legal education and the years in legal practice were not a waste of time for me. I think it comes back to part of the legal training and the problem solving and understanding people's problems. I found that very early when I was a student intern in ministry visiting an elderly couple who were very distressed because they were filing for bankruptcy. Being able, from a legal perspective, to know what that was all about, to know both the stigma that they felt and to able to talk to them about it as a fresh start. I explained to them that one of the purposes of the bankruptcy court is to wipe the slate clean and get people out from under their burdens. I am able to combine my experience in the law with theological reflection. Being able to make that connection [between law and theology] enables me to offer hope and comfort.
Richard: You have been talking about the ways in which your law experience has helped you as a priest. Has being a priest impacted your perception of the law and the legal profession?
Father Jim: Yes. I think sometimes the legal profession can be all about money and winning. That was one of the things that I did not like about it; clients who wanted to win at all costs. Very often I would look at problem as how do we not necessarily win a total victory but how do we accomplish the goals to make it a win-win situation so that everybody gets out of it something that they want.