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Pentecostal banner   When I was fifteen, my pastor, Glen Sims, introduced me to one of the potentially high and holy moments that ministers get to experience. He took me to visit an elderly woman near death. “If you are thinking about becoming a minister, you must be able to be with people in their most difficult times.” The woman was herself the wife of a minister who had died several years before. She observed my youth, naivete, and shyness with her own years of experience, wisdom, and serenity. “You have a wonderful life ahead of you. I enjoyed almost all of it myself. But I have a wonderful life ahead of me, too.” Such was her faith.
Up to that point, the privilege of being with people at very special and terrifying times was an aspect of ministry that was hidden to me. I had observed the work of worship, even helping to serve communion at the kneeling rail around the altar, as was the Methodist custom of those days. Pastor Sims had invited me on a few occasions to lead a pastoral prayer in front of the congregation, and he loaned me Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Prayers, so I had a model to use. I knew about the activities of meetings and Church School classes, and youth events. I had no idea about being with people who were sick, or dying, or in crisis, or grieving. I could not imagine trying to moderate disputes between angry spouses or alienated family members, or aggrieved church members, or offended community people. The thought of being an advocate for people who were poor or needy or in trouble had not crossed my mind. Eventually he and other mentors introduced me to these challenges of ministry.
These are privileges that the people of the church make possible for their ministers and to some extent for each other. The door opens to the hardest challenges that people face. The embrace is extended. The chair is offered. The mutual tears are shed. The horrible fears are faced together and with the halting words of fervent prayer.
I told my pastor that I didn’t think I had the strength for this. I asked him how he was able to do it. I can still hear him admit that he wasn’t able, not on his own. He talked about a power greater than he was, greater than anyone on their own, that lets people come together in such times and struggle together. God’s Spirit comes and helps people face the hardest trials and get through them.
In thousands of episodes that followed—hospital visits, counseling sessions, emergency calls, and everything else—some moments remained terrifying enough to send me back to some quiet corner where I might enjoy being a gardener, a scholar, a writer, or anything other than a pastor. My own pastor’s words became flesh many times over. There are holy moments when our God of compassion and wisdom comes near enough to be tangible in the air we breathe and the light we see. Blood, sweat, and tears all yield their power and make room for the mysterious presence of the Living God.