In the first week of seminary at Duke Divinity School, my professor of Old Testament read a book excerpt by W.E. Sangster:
To have a cure of souls...is the highest task to which any minister can be called. To stand in the pulpit on Sunday and see the eager and expectant faces of the people turned toward you, and know they have come for worship and for the bit of bread that you have been preparing for them in the week; to feel as you look at them: 'These are my people'; to know that in all the great hours of their life, when they want to be wed, when a child is born into their home, when trouble comes, when the doctor is going in and out, when bereavement robs them of every scrap of joy -- to know that in that hour the door is open, and you not only may go but you must go; that the cry of their heart then is for their minister...to dwell upon that is to know a joy which, to my mind, not even the unquestioned delights of scholarly research can surpass. To receive the confidence of people, to konw the secrets they have told to no other living soul; to blush with them over their sins and exult when them when the sin is flung under the table; to know their private affairs and to be the sharer of their highest ideals, is to have a joy of which not one of us is really worthy. From The Approach to Preaching as recorded in The Upper Room's A Guide to Prayer for Ministers & Other Servants
I have been reminded often in recent days of the incredible privilege I have to be the pastor at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. Last Sunday, I did something I have never done before. During the serving of communion, I offered people who did not want to receive the elements the opportunity to come forward and receive a blessing. To my delight, I had the awesome gift of placing my hands on the shoulders of four individuals. Two of the people were visitors and two people are members of the church. As I placed my hands on their shoulders and asked God to bless them -- in the highs and lows of their lives -- to be with them in whatever it was that they were facing -- to shine through them in their studies and in their vocation -- to be able to see themselves the way that God sees them - precious -- I realized how rare it is to experience the art of blessing. We say, "God bless you" often when people sneeze, but we rarely take time to really pray that another person will be blessed. It was a powerful experience for me -- one that I will not soon forget and one that I look forward to repeating again soon.
Today, Sangster's words took on a whole new meaning for me as one of our new members stood and offered a testimony. As part of our time of sharing celebrations and concerns, this woman rose in front of the congregation to tell them what a blessing they were to her. She then talked about how she had been embraced by the congregation and how she had been able to confess her sins as a result of our community of faith and receive a word of truth that led to forgiveness. Her testimony was the culmination of that sin being "flug under the table" once and for all. It was an amazing, powerful moment.
There is something happening at Mount Vernon Place -- something that enables me to experience the presence and the power of the living God whenever we gather. I see people growing in their faith. I see people taking delight in each other and the ways in which they see God at work in their life. I see individuals desiring to go out and serve the needs of the community. And, I see myself loving "my people" in ways that I have never loved them before. What a privilege it is to be a pastor -- a joy for which I am truly not worthy.
I can't wait to see what happens next week!