There are dozens of responsibilities and duties for a pastor listed in our Book of Discipline but there is no mention of the need to love our lay persons that I could find. You have to do a lot of digging in that awesome tome to search for what you want.
I’m not sure I ever really loved the members of my flock. Is that so bad to admit? Wait a minute, I believe I might have loved a few of them and got away with it. I felt I got liked a lot but I always wanted to be loved a lot during my tenure. After 45 years of ministry I should have bonded deeply with a few of them. Did I have to love them before they would love me? Probably.
Well, hey, we are called to love our neighbors and even our enemies but there seems to be no specific call to love our parishioners. I get it, the compassion might get out of hand, but what about laity loving us?
When I was assigned to my last church I succeeded one of the finest preachers in the denomination. I got sympathy cards from clergy friends who heard I was going to follow him. I think he got lots of love right off the bat; with me it took about seven years to get a bit of it. I was certain there were at least eight members who disliked me in a big way. When I passed by them in the breezeways they might convey a tiny bit of tolerance but there was no loving coming from them that I could detect.
It didn’t help to be reminded of Jesus’ take on how to deal with that kind of behavior. He told us to “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” I blessed them alright but not in the way Jesus had in mind.
I assumed those who disliked me or refused to love me would never turn a corner on their demeanor during my eleven-year stint there. Fifteen years after I retired one of those church members rang our doorbell one morning. I don’t recall ever talking to her over those years but she sat down and we chatted for a while. Then she suddenly stood up to leave and as she walked to the door she said “I’ll bet you never knew how much you were loved during your stay as our pastor.” She just turned toward me, smiled and uttered, “Have a nice day.”
Well, geez, lady why didn’t you let me know that a couple of decades ago?
I’ve forgotten how deep affection transpired in the secular work world sixty years ago. I was an employee for a couple of years in the Hydrualics division at North American Aviation in a room comprised of several hundred workers. The only loving I experienced there was when an engineer allowed me to borrow his mechanical pencil for a day. That’s about the deepest hint of compassion I recall in the place.
No matter where I worked, however, if I took on too much commitment there seemed to be less fondness expressed on the job.
“You can get lonesome – being that busy.”
Isobel Lennart, American playwright and screenwriter