Saturday, March 28, 2015

Preacher's Pastor

The voice on the other end was very matter-a-fact. “My wife just died, and I am wondering if we can have the service on Saturday? “ I can feel his grief. He’s not saying the words, his voice is cool and crisp, and everything in me tells me he is trying to keep himself together. I agree to meet with the family the following day, and offer something pastoral to comfort. Click. I prepare my office as I typically do, clear of my table, place my book of worship, a hymnal, a sample bulletin, and tissues. They come in handy. In walks the family-husband, daughter, son, son’s wife, and friend of the family who is also a pastor. I welcome them all, and suggest we pray, to calm folk’s anxiety. As we talk, I get a couple of stories, although I realize nobody is interested in talking directly about the deceased. That’s when they tell me they have just spent the last 24 hours recounting stories, and laughing and crying together, they are exhausted. We discuss the service, their hopes and dreams. I want folks to feel cared for. They tell me they want their pastor friend to give the homily. I can tell how much it will mean to them, so of course. I will sing the hymns, offer the prayers, read scripture, and guide the speakers. We close with prayer, and the pastor friend says, “You did well.” I think he is referencing that I didn’t insist on preaching the homily. I look at him, he was clearly their safety net, and they brought him to the meeting for a reason. He says to me, “you know they didn’t leave the church on good terms, thanks for easing their transition back.”

The next day I meet the family in the church parlor, I begin introducing myself to the family, I hear from at least six more grandchildren that they want to share, and I begin organizing the speakers. That’s when I noticed their pastor friend, standing in the corner, completely bereft. I wondered how he was standing-up. He was giving the homily about his beloved friend he had known for 50 years, that I never knew, and I, well right then and there I realized what my job was. I was the preacher’s pastor that day. I became the pastor to the preacher and to the family, a service that only I could offer at this time. I called everyone together, we prayed, and what emerged in the service was an honoring of their beloved, and wow, what a beautiful and meaningful display of love. Being a pastor sometimes means knowing when we are called to swallow our ego, and listening where we are being called, sometimes leading from behind, sometimes leading on the side, and sometimes within.

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