Okay, so I was exhausted yesterday, and I couldn’t be very eloquent in my reply to the college student. The blank stare was followed by a whole lot of laughter, but not much in defense of the profession. But, she’s a regular, and I have an entire semester and three bonus weeks to talk to her about the seminary thing. We’ll catch up.
She is not the first student who’s talked to me about going into the pastorate. In fact, she’s the fourth in two years. We have two young adults who are planning to go as well. And that’s one of the many reasons why I hope our denomination doesn’t abandon our campus ministries, it’s just extremely important. I often compare our Local Governing Body’s CM meetings to a group of vultures fighting over a half a piece of sausage, because the pot of money shrinks drastically every year and all of our jobs depend on the money….
But that was not the point of this post. The point of this post was to tell you what I would have said to the student if I weren’t suffering from the gray fog of post-service exhaustion. The reason I’m writing is to tell you why I’m a pastor. I mean, just one of the reasons, of course.
It was a few years ago, at a Good Friday service, and I was preaching for the community. The ministers from all the churches got together and had one service at the Episcopal Church. No one ever said why it was always at the Episcopal Church, but I was sure that it had to do with the dark sanctuary. It was a bit gothic and perfect for such a somber event.
I was surprised by the whole procession of the cross thing. I had to help carry in this big wooden heavy cross, but I didn’t get the warning, so I wore really high heels, and everyone else was still about a foot-and-a-half taller than me. I was actually reaching up just to touch the cross. While the other pastors were walking in a dignified manner, I was trotting in these heels trying to keep up. It was a stone aisle, an echoey space. The longest procession of my life. It was an ugly scene.
We finally made it down the aisle, without me breaking an ankle. That was my year to preach, and I was a little nervous, because it was my church and all these other churches. It wasn’t a huge crowd, but you know how it is, you just don’t want to do anything to embarrass your congregation…and I had just gotten back from trotting down the aisle….
So I preached about a painting in the Rhode Island School of Design’s museum. It’s a loud, gold and red, Italian painting with all kinds of soldiers and armies and chaos. And Jesus is there, hanging on the cross, looking at his mother. John’s trying to comfort her. I talked about how hard it must have been for Jesus to be taking care of the sins of the world, but not be able to take care of his mom. And how Jesus took that time on the cross to rearrange the family (“This is your mother.” “This is your son.”), and how all of our families have been rearranged. Now we’re responsible for caring for each other in new ways. Because we’re Christians.
I got a note after the service, with a name and a telephone number. I called the number and talked to a woman who usually spends every Good Friday service at the RISD museum, with her children, looking at the Italian painting. That particular year, though, her children couldn’t go, so after much debate, she and her husband decided to go to the service instead.
She had just been diagnosed with cancer. Stage four. She was beginning aggressive treatment, but she knew that she was slowly leaving her children. That was the one part about dying that she just couldn’t bear.
When the sermon began, she couldn’t believe it (“I couldn’t go the museum, so God brought the museum to me”). As she listened to the sermon, she just cried and cried. For the first time, she knew that her children were going to be all right.
And that’s why I’m a pastor. It’s just a profession where this sort of thing occurs. So, what about you? All you church leaders out there, why do you do it?