An opinion piece made the rounds among us pastor types recently. Its author was saying goodbye not just to a congregation, but to pastoral ministry. It’s an old and creaky narrative that congregations are stuck in their ways. We clergy fancy ourselves more forward-thinking than our timid flocks. It’s also a threadbare narrative that it’s particularly hard to be a pastor. I don’t trust either story. But I do hope this particular (former) pastor finds what he’s looking for.
Soon after reading it, I bumped into an acquaintance who attends another church in our city. We both said nice things about her pastor, a mutual friend. But she took up our small talk a notch to another level entirely.
“You know what Tyler did for my family recently?” She started to tear up. It was a new school year and she was particularly nervous about her kids’ start. She asked her pastor for a special blessing for their return to school. He made the sign of the cross on their foreheads, laid his hands on their heads, and blessed them. “I was a blubbering mess,” she said. “It was so beautiful.”
Sure, church life is hard. People are a pain. They still have to pay you to be a pastor, as with any other job. I do worry though that we clergy forget that others among the baptized also work with difficult people, in sclerotic institutions, and face unreasonable demands. Ours is not the only hard job. Not by a long shot.
But where else do you get to dole out blessings on kids while their mother gushes gratitude? In what other job do you get to increase the overall amount of blessing in the world? And where else do you get to see a colleague doing excellent work and it poses no threat to you at all? Tyler is not my competitor any more than one artist is to another. Both of our competition is “the world, death, and the devil,” as some of our theological forebears would have put it. Consumerism, individualism, and just plain old not caring, as we might put it. We work together in ministry, not apart.
And when we spot a blessing, we stop and rejoice, and even crow about it to others. Ministry can be so, so beautiful. Who wants to join us?