Last week during a bishops’ learning event on a college campus I took an evening walk and slipped into the chapel. I felt wonderfully fortunate to discover an excellent a cappella choir rehearsing and so I settled into a pew at the back. Immersed in the music, I felt myself opening to a time of prayer.
About that time a woman approached me who was one of the keepers of the chapel. She had been moving from pew to pew, straightening hymnals and envelops. We chatted in whispers for a few minutes and then she sat down beside me. She asked what had brought me to campus and I told her about the gathering of bishops. She seemed surprised, and asked if I was a bishop. (I was in running shoes, jeans and sweatshirt and didn’t even have on that little red lapel pin, and so I guess I didn’t look very bishop!)
After hearing that I was a bishop, she offered a thoughtful observation. She explained that she also helps with the upkeep of Catholic chapel services, and she noticed that their communion liturgy is similar to that of the United Methodists. However, their liturgy always includes a prayer for the bishops and priests and servants of the church, and ours does not contain an explicit prayer for pastors. She suggested that this was a grave oversight, and that congregants and communicants should always be required to pray for their pastors. They should do it in every service, and they should do it joyfully and unselfishly because it’s the right thing to do. And they should do it because, well, God knows, pastors need prayer. She is United Methodist, and she wished our liturgy included regular and frequent prayer for pastors.
I nodded and smiled at this unassuming messenger from God (aka, an angel!) sitting in the pew beside me. Now I knew what I was there to pray for. I was there in that chapel on that night to pray for my pastors.
Then she offered a further observation. She said the she did not think anyone should ever be allowed to complain about a pastor unless that person was also in constant prayer for the pastor. We should all desire our pastors to succeed, to fulfill their mission, to be strong and whole and healthy, and so we should pray for them, their families, their work, and their ministry. Hmmm…. Imagine if every time we felt annoyed, discouraged, or disappointed by a pastor, we prayed for them with even greater eagerness and sincerity. Imagine if we felt just as much or more an obligation to pray for the pastor as we feel to criticize or correct the pastor.
We visited a few more minutes, and then she left me to my own thoughts and prayers with the sweet music of the choir filling the chapel and touching my soul. And I began to pray for pastors….for pastors of my conference and beyond my conference, for United Methodist pastors and those from other branches of the family tree, for those just starting out and those long since retired, for those enjoying every new day of engagement and for those feeling exhausted and weary, for those pastors who continue to surround us on earth and for those who cheer us on from the great cloud of witnesses in heaven.
Christmas means many things. It’s the season we focus on God’s great gift to us in Christ. It’s a time to look outward and beyond our own congregations to reach toward those in our community. It’s a season to notice Christ at work in the world, and to offer ourselves anew to the task of Christ’s ministry in the world.
And it’s a season of intensity and anticipation, a time of blessing as well as of hard work. In our great celebration of Christ’s birth, and the new birth God offers each of us, let’s also give God thanks and praise for those who lead our congregations, for their life and witness, their hard work and energetic vision, their deep commitment and high calling, their exhausting days and deep nights of the soul, their outward focus and for the immeasurable impact they have on the lives of people and communities.
This Christmas Eve since I will not be preaching or leading services myself, I’ll once again be praying for our pastors and our churches. I hope that you will pray with me.
Pray for your pastor. Pray for your church. Pray for the community that your church and pastor has been called to transform. Pray for the world God has entrusted to us to serve.
Yours in Christ,
PS…Thank you for the several people that commented positively about the usefulness and value of the Five Practices Blog, and for the many more who sent personal emails on the topic. Your insights, encouragement, and suggestions are deeply appreciated. I look forward to continuing the Blog, and to adding a Blogcast element to it from time to time starting sometime in January.