I received a telephone call today from the interim pastor of a church I served years ago here in town. He informed me that the family of a member had requested that I return to help with his mom’s memorial service on Sunday. Unfortunately I am already assisting with a memorial service of a clergy member of our conference, a retired District Superintendent, who was part of our congregation in Pleasant Garden, which I served for eight years. So I had to decline, and I really hated to decline because this lady was one of the sweetest ladies I have ever been fortunate enough to have known.
Her name was Louise Marshall. Many years ago I held the service for her husband and then one for her niece. One of the things that made Louise so special was that she made you feel special no matter who you were. On our birthday, anniversary, Christmas, thanksgiving, every holiday or special day we would receive a card from Louise. She hardly ever missed. She brought cheer, she touched our hearts… and kept touching them over the years. And it made us feel so good to know that someone took the time to remember us.
Something so small brought such deep smiles… We will forever remember her and remain thankful to her.
That brings up a touchy point with us weird clergy people. I have always made it a practice to invite former pastors back to assist in Memorial services because they have a relationship with the members that I do not have. My relationship with the members is deep and special but so are the relationships built with former pastors. They were there when family members went through deep and troubling events in their lives and it built a special bond between them. If I were to deny them coming back to help, I am denying the family of a depth of ministry I cannot give.
For some of us clergy types it appears as if we are not in charge when we allow former pastors to come back, or somehow it impedes the building of pastoral relationships. I have had families ask for me to come back and the pastor has told them “It is against Conference policy.” Other pastors would call me and ask me not to come back so they can build their relationship with the congregation. Then there are those political pastors who say: “This would be a good time for a new pastor to build relationships but you do what you feel is best.” What they really mean is I want you to tell me you can’t come so I can tell the family you SAID you can’t come, but I really don’t want you to come into my garden. Is it immaturity? Is it insecurity? Is it that someone may like another pastor more than they like you? I really don’t get it!
I thought we were in the vocation of ministry not stardom. Aren’t we seeking to help those in our flock… or is it help only if the help comes alone from us? I am afraid that the human-ness of our brother/sisterhood in ministry is showing way too much, and not enough of our unity in Spirit and love.
I also know the other side of the coin where every time you turn around a certain former pastor is visiting your members. The only thing missing is they are not in the pulpit with you on Sunday mornings… or are they? There is a clergy family I know of who are death to any clergy who follow them. They are always back in the work. They know of a death in your church before you do. People always call on them, stay in touch with them, even vacation with them. They are the “most loving people you could ever want to know.” Nothing is ever done about it… just talk. So what do we do?
For me I try not to be insecure or jealous or any of those things that keep ministry from happening in and around me, through me or others. When I am in doubt I do question why I would not want this person to come back. If they have an ax to grind or were particular trouble makers at the church I am serving the invitation probably would not be forthcoming. If they are pastors with a good heart and a caring spirit, who care about this church and the people, I would invite them to come home. There is not really anything I can do about whether I am invited back or not. That will always be up to the current pastor, as it should be. I pray that I will be gracious and understanding when the invitation doesn’t come or comes in a way that actually says no. I have been less that gracious sometimes when that has happened in the past, and I am working through that in my own soul now.
Brothers and sisters we need to find a way to get along for the sake of the kingdom and the ministry we seek to proclaim. If our people see us at odds with each other, how can we expect them to listen to us when we say to them… come together in love.
Forgive us Lord, when we clergy act too much like little children fighting over a toy or a place to play. May we put away childish things and come together in love, in and through Jesus. Amen.
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