Before a memorial service last week, I was about to walk into the sanctuary with the grieving family, and an usher whispered to me, “I don’t envy you this work.”
I suppose that’s the perception – that, as a pastor, I would dislike funerals and memorial services, and maybe also that I would much prefer to be officiating at a wedding.
You might be surprised to know that I would much prefer to be providing care to a family in grief. (My feelings about the majority of weddings are a subject for another blog post, one that should probably be left unwritten.)
Just so you know, I am not alone in feeling this way. I have no hard data – and I’m certain there are exceptions – but my guess is that a large majority of pastors would say pretty much the same thing. I’m not a betting person, but I’d put money on this.
And it’s not that I like grief or sadness or pain. No one does. It’s that at a funeral I ordinarily feel like a pastor, this thing that I’ve trained to do and that I love doing. At a funeral I feel as though I’m doing something worthwhile. I feel as though my work is important and needed. My theological and pastoral training gets a workout. There’s no phoning it in.
I felt the same way when I led the church’s grief group the very next day. There were 16 people – most of them members of the church, some of them not – and they were speaking earnestly, sincerely, and genuinely about their grief, about what it’s like to lose a loved one and then (somehow) go on.
I sometimes feel emotionally wrung out after these meetings. So many raw emotions are expressed. We laugh too – more than you might imagine – but mainly we talk about feelings of loneliness, confusion, sadness, and pain. Occasionally I speak, but mostly I nod and listen with encouraging looks. It’s hard work, harder than it sounds.
And here’s the thing: I always go home feeling like a pastor, like the person I was called and trained to be.
Too much of what pastors are expected to do these days is, well, not very pastoral. We raise money, we supervise staff, we become intimately acquainted with the roof or the A/C systems – all of which are critically important to the maintenance of the institution, but none of which was a factor in our decision to leave family and friends behind to follow Jesus.
This is not to complain about any of those responsibilities. I knew when I accepted this position that I would be expected to do all of those things – and more.
But what I look forward to, savor, and can’t get enough of, are those moments when I feel like a pastor.