I’ve written in the past about the strange world pastors inhabit. We come into spaces where people are at emotional extremes, from deepest grief to highest celebration, and we wonder if anything we do has any impact at all. We tell the story of Jesus, we try to share his love, and we long for people to see him in what we are doing. Yet, we so often are left wondering if any of our hopes came true.
Sometimes a family comes to a service in grief and says “thank you” because we’ve made space for them within the story of the Gospel. These are moments of joy.
You see, folks often ask for a “priest” 1 to be at a memorial service or funeral because “that’s just what you do.” We often feel like an appendix to the proceeding. One which people feel as though they have to suffer with, rather than embrace. Not infrequently I feel as though people would be happier if they weren’t socially “required” to have me around. Even worse than funerals are weddings, where I’m simply the bemused idiot who is keeping people from the party 2.
And then I have days like today, when an out of town family came in for a memorial service 3 and grieved together with their friends. I was privileged to make space for these folks, in Jesus’ name, and help them express where they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Then I was equally privileged to affirm that “place” as painful, and yet good. Though that affirmation I pointed toward Jesus and the hope of resurrection and the world made new.
And folks said, “Thank you.”
They said “thank you” because I didn’t try to eulogize a woman I’d never met. They said “thank you” because I was laid back enough to make them feel comfortable. They said “thank you” because I had a plan, but was flexible enough to work with the changes the family had made “on the fly.” They said “thank you” because they appreciated the hope I shared, and the fact I didn’t judge their sorrow.
I was glad to receive their thanks. Today I led a memorial service, and was ministered to by the grieving. It was quite special.
- At some point, even long-term Protestant families seemed to arrive at the conclusion that all clergy were “priests.” I’m not sure when it happened, but it did. ↩
- And the killjoy who tells the groomsmen that getting the groom drunk in the church basement is inappropriate. ↩
- Braving the Papal traffic, no less. ↩