Putting the pastor back in pastorate


I met a man in the gift store of the Grand Canyon. Actually, my husband, who has the gift (one that can’t be bought) of making friends with everyone, was talking to him while I happened to be standing there.

Brian noticed the label “Texas” on his nametag and asked him, “Where in Texas are you from?” And, from there, we had a long conversation in which we found out that we all went to the same seminary.

We got the run-down on this man’s life, while my daughter patiently stood with the look of “oh no, not again” on her face. He grew up Baptist. He became Presbyterian when he was in seminary. Served as a pastor for about 12 years. He “ran out of steam.” Then, he went back to school to become a psychotherapist. He became Unitarian. After 12 years of family counseling, he moved to the Grand Canyon. He’s been there for 10 years.

I’m guessing he was about 67-70. He works in the gift store, and he has no ambition to move up in management or own the shop. For most of the cooler months, he spends all of his time hiking the canyon.

While running through these events in his life, he kept saying, “I don’t why. After about ten years, the pastorate just didn’t do it for me. So I became a family counselor, but that didn’t do it for me either. I don’t know why.”

About ten years ago, when I began the pastorate, I’m pretty sure I would have hoisted myself up on a really high horse upon that news. I would have thought, I’ll tell you why. Because it’s not all about you! If you’re looking to do something that satisfies you at all times, then of course your going to run out of steam! But, I didn’t say that as I stood among all the Native American trinkets. I didn’t even think it.

About six years into my ministry, I ran out of steam. Completely. And two things saved me during that time: I began a practice of walking meditation and I read Parker Palmer’s little book. Through Palmer’s words, for the first time, I realized that being a pastor is about me. I was created with gifts and abilities, desires and quirks that I need to pay attention to. And when I did, it made all the difference in my abilities.

For example, I’m not an evening person. I’m writing this at 6:00 am, and I’ve already been up for an hour. I have all kinds of energy right now, but by the time 7:30 pm rolls around, I’m done for the day. Finished. I’m reading books with little words and big pictures to my daughter. By 9:30, if I happen to still be awake at such an ungodly hour, I have so little vitality and patience that my family is wishing that I was asleep.

But the church I was serving had meetings three nights a week, beginning at 7:30 pm, and (when I wasn’t moderating) they often lasted until 10. At first, I relied on caffeine to get me through, but then my body started rejecting the 3 pots of coffee that I was drinking every day. And when I had to cut out that habit, disaster struck.

By the end of the evening, when I was supposed to be productive and resourceful, I felt like a drooling zombie who only craved one thing in life: to crawl into bed.

It sounds like a small thing (and it is). But when I went to a church that begins its session meetings at 6 pm and ends them at 7:30, that tiny thing made a huge difference in my life. And I began to realize, it is–a little bit–about me.


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