Why I am a Pastor

I just wrote the title of this blog post and then wondered at my own audacity, as if in a short blog post I can adequately express all the reasons that I left an enjoyable and steady career in sportswriting to attend seminary and pursue a career in ministry.

Still, though, as we approach Christmas and the American church continues to battle for relevancy amidst an onslaught of profit-motive-based ministry and popular American nihilism, I think it's important to try and talk about why, in the midst of all this, I am a Pastor.

Ordination Day, 2013

When I first decided to go to seminary, I remember talking with the Pastor from my home congregation, who baptized and confirmed me. We'd always been close, and I'd exchanged several emails with him over the years about theology, philosophy, and religion. He himself had foregone law school to go to seminary, and occasionally he wrote columns for our local sports section.

I remember that he, like many people in my life, wondered if I was going to seminary for some kind of other purpose - as though a lifetime of church ministry might be too traditional or maybe even too difficult for someone like me, entering ministry after sportswriting - as a person who never quite followed a traditional path.

But I was always sure, somehow, that part of my life's journey involved the ritual pastoral tasks, sometimes considered menial - of preaching, teaching, presiding over communion and funerals and weddings, giving Sunday school kids Bibles, baptizing, and visiting people in the hospital and in prison.

In this way, despite the non-traditional way my ministry career began out on football fields and in newspapers - I am partially a traditionalist at heart. In all of my pastoral calls, while I endured meetings and corporate-style mission planning - what sustained me were those basic tasks that Jesus required of future ministers of the church thousands of years ago.

On a summer day I remember driving to a hospital to meet a young mom who had been suffering back pain for months, only to discover that she had Stage IV breast cancer. In that heart-wrenching moment, I had the honor of praying with her and her husband, and then later visiting her in her home and praying with her and her son. Though I'm no longer working at her church, I stay connected with this family through social media. I've witnessed the miracle of her response to early cancer surgery and treatment, and I've been so blessed by her faithfulness and honesty in the midst of this journey.

I also remember hot dry days in Orange County, driving to the home of a brilliant man who was suffering a painful death. Round-the-clock nursing aides had to help suction out his throat. But he always conducted himself with grace and love when I visited him, and I developed a special relationship with his longtime partner, who bravely attended church alone and always had a hug for me.

I remember wintry days in Chicago, traveling to a memory care center to visit a dignified engineer who had been diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia. I remembered when he first came to the church in his suit and tie, one of my first new members as a pastor, and he brought dinner to our home with his wife, with whom I also developed a special friendship. While dementia robbed him of his mind, it could never steal his heart. As I prayed with his family around his hospice bed, I remembered Jesus' promise of redemption and hope, even in moments of death. His great-grandchild had recently been born, and I was honored to witness God's presence and promise of new life - for this family - even as they mourned.

In recounting these stories of my six years as an ordained Lutheran Pastor, I'm reminded that these are the moments that endure. Sure, I remember Christmas Eves and Easters, too. But the contentious council meetings and worries over the budget and broken toilets fade as the years go by.

What endures are the relationships, I realize. And the relationships I get to have as Pastor to a church of ordinary people, all of us trying our best to hear God and follow Jesus and embrace the Holy Spirit -- these relationships are special and all-too-rare in a world full of relationships based on convenience or commoditization.

Each week as a Pastor I get to preach on a unique Bible passage. I get to preside over bread and wine that God transforms into the very body and blood of Jesus, shared to remind us that we too are one Body - in a world that desperately wants to tear us all apart.

I get to share the story of Jesus with kids hearing it for the first time. I get to answer searching questions from middle school confirmation students. I get to preach the Gospel in moments of joy, grief and terror. I get to build trust in a world where trust is being broken each and every day.

Next Monday, Dec. 9, I am beginning a new call as part-time Pastor to a new church, Grace Lutheran in Brownton, Minn. I get to preach, teach, visit, and minister to a new community of people who have been a church since 1888. I am deeply honored by their trust to call me Pastor. I am deeply grateful that even as I continue my work as author, speaker, writer and mom -- I get to be Pastor, too -- a role like no other, and a gift from God in my life, grounding me and reminding me of life's most important moments - none of which have anything to do with fame, power, wealth, or whatever the world tells us is most important.

Grace Lutheran in Brownton - 1942

Grace Lutheran in Brownton today

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