Delware River sea wall.
Image by Wesley T Allen
Last night I was editing some photographs and during the process I remembered a saying someone once passed on to me.

You need to slow down and let your spirit catch up with your body.

That’s the advice my friend, Peg Horton, used to give me when she saw I was letting stress build up too much for my well being. Peg loved that I used to carry my camera around with me on walks, and would prod me to shoot more if I ever told her I hadn’t been out with it for a few days. She knew photography is a way I deal with the stresses of life, losing myself in angles, light, and beauty for a while so my heart and mind can process whatever journey I’m on. And she refused to allow me to set that outlet aside, if she could help it.

And Peg could always help it. She was, perhaps, the most pastoral heart I’ve ever met. She loved people with a deep and wondrous compassion, held on to her faith with immense grace, and possessed an empathy I can’t hope to fathom. Sadly, Peg died this past Spring.

I miss my friend.

Last week I wrote some reflections on my peculiar calling, but I left out something which the memory of Peg’s saying brought to mind.

Pastors tend to live with a profound sense of loss.

Every human being on the planet deals with the loss of relationships. It doesn’t matter if the loss is through death, a friend moving, or a irreparable separation brought about by conflict. Loss is life. Our traditional wedding vows even point this out, as they last “until death do us part.” Because of my calling, I’ve been to more funerals over my eighteen years of pastoring than most people attend in a lifetime. I’ve also invested my heart into folks who move, join other congregations, or just vanish from congregational life for any number of reasons.

These separations aren’t always bad. I’ve been relieved for people whose death brings about an end of suffering, rejoiced with folks who get to start a new adventure because they’re pursuing a career move, and blessed folks who have migrated away from the congregation for a multitude of reasons. But even when a loss is a good thing, it’s still a loss. And losses bring grief. When I look out on the congregation on Sunday morning I will often consider the faces who aren’t there. I remember those I’ve buried, I long for folks who have moved away, and feel regret that folks may have needed to migrate elsewhere to continue their journey. Sometimes pastoring seems to be the art of processing grief well, so people are able to perceive hope in the ashes. Because that, too, is the call.

And the hope is real, perhaps even more so because it’s forged in loss, but the grief is no less so. It’s just a fact of life, under the sun. And there are times when cherished stories about those lost to us aren’t enough to express the profound sense of grief most pastors feel, and all we can say is, “I miss my friend.” Because we do. Because I do, but that’s OK.

I have hope.