This post is part of a blog series on Pomomusings, discussing pastoral identity. To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
I’ve worked in churches my entire adult life. Before I went to seminary and was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament, I spent 15 years as a youth director. In some ways pastoral identity is something I’ve grown into as I’ve grown up on the job. It can feel as comfortable as putting on my favorite, well worn sweatshirt.
Being present with people during the highs and lows of their lives is one of the privileges of working in a church. I get invited to graduation parties and am ushered in to hospital bedsides. It is a sacred gift to walk alongside people during both celebration and grief. I experienced that gift long before I was ordained.
There have been moments, though, since I was ordained to this new identity as pastor, where my pastoral identity was not well worn and comfortable. It was new, and stiff, and needed breaking in.
I remember the first time someone sat in my office and started yelling at me about something I had done wrong. Then they got upset about something that had happened 40 years before the thing that I did. I sat there wondering, “do they know I was 2 years old when this happened and was unlikely to be responsible for the offense?”
And then it occurred to me. They weren’t upset with me. They were upset with God. I was just the closest person they could find.
I was able to sit there, wrapped in my pastoral identity, and hear them out as they let God know of their pain, and loss, and anger. I apologized for the thing I had done. And then I did my best to let them know God loved them and already knew of their pain.
I’ve had people in my office because they needed me to offer them forgiveness for things they had done in their past. I’ve had people in my office who were hoping I would give them a pass for their misbehavior, only to have me call them on it.
At first, after those encounters, I would sit there and wonder. Did I really just tell her that? Did he really just listen to me?
After a few more years on the job, though, I almost don’t notice anymore when I put on that identity. It fits so much better now.
And, honestly, it is so much easier to pronounce God’s word of forgiveness, and concern, and restoration when I am most comfortable in that identity as pastor. It keeps me from thinking it is about me. People don’t come to me because I’m a therapist. They don’t come to me because I’m so good at listening. They don’t come to me because I am great at problem solving.
They come to me because I’m their pastor.
When I consider this identity that gives me courage to speak dangerous truth, gives me patience to hear stories of pain and loss, and gives me hope to proclaim the Good News, I realize I’m most comfortable in that identity when I’m grounded in love.
That may sound trite. Love is all you need and all that. Yet, the times my identity as pastor is the most uncomfortable to wear is those times when it chafes against my self righteous anger, or constricts around my exhaustion, or rubs up against my intellectual superiority.
When I remember our call to love the people, I wear my pastoral identity with more grace, patience, and courage. My call to love the people is also deeply grounded, of course, in the truth that God first loved us. And some days that truth fits more comfortably than others. But if we don’t know and believe God’s love is for us, how can we offer it to others? If we believe it is only for us, what do we have to offer?
Go and love the people. Trust the rest of it will work out.
Marci Glass pastors Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Trinity University. She blogs at www.marciglass.com about religion, freedom of religion, feminism, and adoption. She serves on the Boards of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Governing Board of Ghost Ranch Conference Center, and the Covenant Network. She also writes for www.revgalblogpals.com, Huffington Post Religion Blog, and her sermons can be found at Lectionary Homiletics and the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual. You can find her on Twitter @MarciGlass.