Sometimes I find it fascinating when someone refers to me as their pastor that I have so little connection to. The last couple of days have really gotten me thinking about this.
Yesterday I had a phone call from a woman that was crying and when I answered she ask, "Is this the pastor?" She then asks the question "Where in the Bible does it say that I can't commit suicide?" How would you have answered that question? Several times during a lengthy conversation she referred to me as pastor. I am not even sure where she got my number or if she had any idea who she was talking to. She would not identify herself because she told me she didn't want me to send someone to her that would put her in the hospital. I did my best to help her connect to a God that loved her enough and still loves her beyond her wildest imagination.
Webster's Dictionary defines a pastor as a priest or minister in charge of a congregation. What does it mean to be in charge of a congregation? How can I be in charge of a congregation if I don't even know who they are?
This morning I got a call from a lady that first contacted me several months ago because her and her husband had been married in the church I now serve many years ago. At that time he had lost a leg and there was a question as if he would even survive. He did survive and the people from four local churches got together and built a ramp into the trailer that they lived in so he would be able to come home. This morning's call was to tell me that he had been taken back to the hospital, would have surgery this afternoon and may lose his other leg if they cannot get blockages opened up. She ask me to come to the hospital and see them, which of course I did. While I was there relatives came in and she introduced me as their pastor.
Over the years of my ministry I have been introduced by many people as their pastor. Some because they belong to one of the churches I serve, some because I have spent extensive time with them and some that I feel that I have just had a passing acquaintance with. What makes them think of me as pastor?
As I have reflected on this I think of John Wesley's words that "The World is my Parish!" and that as a United Methodist pastor I have always said that was how I felt as well. If that is true then everyone in the world is a part of my congregation. When we are appointed at Annual Conference our bishop always talks about the "communities" to which we have been appointed. I work hard to connect with that community and am often called on to minister to people that sometimes I have never met or had very little contact with.
I remember one time getting a call from a local funeral director asking me to do a funeral for a lady because the family said she had requested that I do her service. When he gave me the name it was not one I was familiar with and I ask if he was sure it was me. He assured me that they had asked for me by name and church. I agreed to do the funeral but did not know who she was till I arrived at the funeral home and realized that my only contact with her was when she came to eat dinner with some lady friends at our fundraising dinners. I was touched but felt bad that I had not connected with her in a much deeper way.
The world is my parish and I am humbled to think that so many may think of me as their pastor with so little interaction with them. I am finding that many are crying out for a spiritual leader that will help them find a connection with a God that they often time find elusive, and that we as pastors represent that connetion for them. I pray that I may continue to touch the lives of those in my community, "world," and that many may see me as pastor, a link to a God that loves them.