When I was ordained almost 20 years ago, I was ordained to serve a specific congregation. A pastor, however, is NOT just a pastor to one particular group of people in a particular place – when one is ordained, one is also ordained as a pastor of the Church. That’s Church with a capital “C” – the universal Church. I serve a congregation, but I also serve the Church, which is everywhere and everyone.
This week I was contacted out of the blue by a woman who is battling leukemia, but it appears she is losing. She doesn’t belong to a congregation. It’s been a while since she’s been to church. But she is baptized, was raised Lutheran, went to a Lutheran school, and feels Lutheran at her core, so she sought out a Lutheran pastor and found me.
She’s afraid. She has questions. She has doubts. She wants to live, but wants to plan her funeral. She is weak and immune compromised and cannot leave her house, so she asked if I would come and speak with her. I don’t know her. She is not a member of the congregation I serve. She is not a member of ANY congregation. What do I do? I go and visit because as a pastor of the Church with a capital “C” I AM her pastor.
Sometimes pastors can lose sight of the fact that we’re not just called to a congregation, or a synod (or diocese) or even a national denomination – but the people – ALL the people, in our buildings and out of our buildings. This means we get calls from funeral homes to officiate funerals for folks we don’t know, who for whatever reason want a Christian funeral even though they didn’t belong to a congregation. It means if we’re in public wearing the “collar” we can get stopped by anyone who wants to talk about anything – complaints about religion, questions about faith, even outright confessions. I’ve run into all of these experiences in my almost 20 years in the ordained ministry. It is part of the profound honor of serving Christ in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
I will be visiting with her again, because now, even though we only met this week, I am her pastor.
***Of course, all the baptized (not just pastors) are called to minister to one another. Each one of us is called through baptism to offer support, comfort and the Word of the gospel to those we meet. But there are times in a person’s life when they desire someone to provide counsel, spiritual guidance, the comfort of the sacraments, and the confidentiality that the office of pastor brings.