As a pastor, one of my least favorite questions when meeting someone new (outside of church) is the incredibly predictable, “What do you do for a living?”
When I was in seminary, I tried to drag out the response — “I am in school… in Richmond… studying religion… no, not at VCU or University of Richmond… at Union Presbyterian Seminary… yes, I am going to be a pastor.” Almost immediately, the new acquaintance would either walk away or launch into a confessional statement about why they don’t go to church anymore, or begin apologizing for a recent joke (which I laughed at), or their language. It gets old, very fast.
Now that I AM a pastor, I just jump on in with feet first and admit to it. The response is usually very similar. I have no problem with that, especially if they walk away and I was in a hurry or enjoying alone time. This is exactly why I figured there would be no problem sharing my profession when on a recent vacation (because who really wants to talk to a pastor while they are enjoying a poolside meal and drink?).
I couldn’t be more wrong.
I quickly learned a great deal about the people I was relaxing and swimming with as soon as they found out that I am a pastor. I heard the story and fears of one individual who feels he might never be able to return to church because of his past; the young mom who feared this would be the final family vacation because her child will likely run away when they return home; the couple who still mourns the tragic loss of their oldest child but celebrates the milestones in the life of their youngest. Our first-name-based friendships grew quickly as we floated for hours, pondering the realities of life and affirming both hatred and love of God. We ate meals together and even danced together. We parted ways, grateful for the conversation, and with no way to connect beyond our small piece of paradise.
Early into the experience, I not-so-jokingly told my husband, “From here on out, I am a middle school teacher. That is it.” He wondered why, and as I explained that I just wanted to be on vacation and leave work behind, he helped me to remember that I can’t do that — I am someone who loves and cares for people in God’s name, and that can’t be left behind.
And that, my friends, is what it boils down to.
As pastors, as congregational leaders, we are called to love and care for all of God’s children in all times and spaces. Even on our vacation when we want to cry out, “Please, just let me read!” Even if it means losing a BINGO game because you were distracted.
We never know who we will meet, and we never know what their story will be. We can ALWAYS know that the individuals we meet are beautiful children of God, and we are called to share God’s love and grace with each and every one – those who are hurting, those who might never set foot in a church building again, and those who want someone to celebrate with who hasn’t yet heard their story.
I imagine I learned of the heartbreak and celebration filling the hearts of the other vacationers because I was unknown and we were all far from home. I imagine I was seen as “safe” for those who couldn’t relax until they released some of the weight they had been carrying around. I celebrate every lost minute of reading and swimming, because through each individual I spoke with, I saw a glimpse of God’s beautiful Kingdom taking form.
That is the beauty of being a pastor. That is the incredible struggle of being a pastor. That is why pastors NEED to make sure they take time away to refuel.
Loving those we know is challenging enough. Loving those we have just met and might never see again is even more challenging. God has called us to do this for a reason, though. I pray that each of us is able to take these glimpses of the Kingdom and find more peace there, than in our poolside reading.
But please, take time with that book gathering dust on your shelf and go catch some Vitamin D!
Rev. Jordan B. Davis