Yesterday, I was humbled and grateful beyond words for the hugs, smiles, words, cards, and gifts I received from my congregation. I am also glad that “Pastor Appreciation Sunday” provides pastors with the opportunity to remember those spiritual leaders who have helped and guided us. Here are a few of mine:
I grew up in my father’s church, so though he has been incredibly influential, he was never really “pastor” in my eyes. There were, however, several college students who volunteered with the youth group. Eric and David came to my baseball games, Jessica and Kristi would take me out for ice cream. Their ministry of presence has been a source of strength for me over the years. Their example reminds me that our seemingly simple actions can have profound, lasting effects. In particular, Kristi had a habit of writing letters, which has made a lasting impression on me.
In college, I worked with Young Life, volunteering my time with high school students. Truth be told, I was a bit of a mess and, in many ways, those students were pastors to me. It is a joy to remember Wade, Troy, Bradley, and Taylor. They taught me a great deal about faith and inspired me to learn more about their questions. Through their eyes, I first glimpsed my future in theological education and have held on to the conviction that the greatest learning comes from working together.
One of the gifts of seminary is the opportunity to be surrounded by experienced and able clergy men and women. Several of my professors were pastoral, especially because they tried their best to cultivate and nurture my better lights. As a result, I now try to empower both seminary students and people in the pew to live fully into their God-given calling.
Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Andrew Weisner, the college chaplain at my alma mater, Lenoir-Rhyne University. I did not regularly attend chapel when I was an undergrad; however, Pastor Weisner was prominent in my life at some of the most difficult times. On occasion, he sought me out intentionally, but more often, he just happened to be walking by. Last week, I happened to walk by the student chapel and saw him in prayer. I learned that, every week since 1998, he has prayed for each student by name, a list that has reached two thousand and three. Perhaps it was no coincidence that he was there for me at just the right time after all.
Upon returning from this visit, I came into the office with the usual pile of work following an absence. Remembering Weisner, however, I took the time to count three hundred and twenty-three names of members and their families in our church directory. And I prayed for each one by name, grateful for the opportunity to be faithful in a new day, supported and uplifted by those pastors who have gone before me.