One of the biggest surprises to me since being ordained ten years ago is that there are people who are willing to call me their minister even though they would never, ever step into a church. These are usually nice people who have either left the church for some reason, or have never experienced church or have never lived life as part of a worshipping community. I believe we all minister at times to people who call on us out of the blue and begin to tell us about the difficulties they are experiencing in life right now. Some will ask for help. Others just need a listening ear. And when possible I am willing to provide both without expecting any sort of return. Basically, that is the definition of Christian love. I suppose this is a big part of the reason people reach out to ministers. Plus it’s a safe bet that whatever is said to a minister will not be repeated, because to do so would be to betray confidences.

Ministers have connections too. Of course, we have that one most important connection. And that’s the one we rely on most often. A simple request for prayer is easy to accommodate. At times though, the need can be more difficult. Money might be an issue. The inability to purchase end of the month groceries for a young family after a job loss; the lack of health insurance and the need to visit a doctor; the need for a small sum with which to purchase an important medication and other requests like these are sadly common. Money is not something the churches I serve or know can easily provide. But, on occasion we have taken up a special collection for someone with a special need. Ministers are also generally familiar with assistance that is available through area nonprofits, though these resources run out more quickly lately.

And then there is the support needed when someone faces the loss of a loved one. A store-owner in the town where I live who had no church, had no support and called because a friend told him he would find talking with me helpful. The bond created by these meetings are quick and deep.

The question of protecting boundaries is important in dealing with these surprises. If I’m supposed to be having time away yet someone approaches with a need, I have to be able and willing to point that person in a direction where help will be available. While I might have it on my heart to “be the change”, it’s important to recognize when doing so will be a detriment to me and to those I serve.

In ministry there are surprises. But, honestly, from my own point of view the people who come to me with open faces and arms and hearts needing to share and trusting that they will not be turned away are as much a gift to me as I hope I might be to them.


Simple Gifts

One of the calls to ministry that I recently have mixed feelings about is visiting homebound people. Perhaps it is the awesome responsibility of it. I realize that of the many calls a pastor answers visiting is one of the absolutely most important ones. It also happens to be a task that when I am in the midst of it, is not a task at all. In fact, it almost feels silly to be paid to do something that seems to bring so much happiness to the recipients, and such a feeling of contentment to me.

I always find that at the end of an afternoon of visiting I understand once again the gift of being a small church pastor, of being able to deliver some comfort.

The most important thing I am asked to do, I think, is to demonstrate the accepting and nonjudgmental love of Jesus while building relationships with the people in the congregations I serve, and also outside of these congregations. Relationships are built by a simple visit. When a member of the church I haven’t seen on Sunday for sometime or in some cases, haven’t ever even seen in church, finds himself in the hospital, and while registering has listed one of my two churches as his home church, I receive the phone call from the hospital about our member as a call directly from God to get busy with this one. And the visit that follows is always, always received with such gratitude. Invariably, as I end our visit with a prayer for God’s presence and safekeeping, the person I am visiting cries real tears at being reminded that he isn’t alone at all, and is loved and cared for. This is the very best gift of all.