Recently in the small congregation where I serve as pastor, three women died in the span of just over a month.
Gladys had been way ahead of her time for most of her 95 years; she was a professor of marketing in a male-dominated business world. Ruth, a woman of impeccable New England pedigree, introduced two generations of high school students to the poetry of Blake, Shelley, and Wordsworth. And Anne was a German immigrant who qualified for the 1944 Olympics but was unable to compete because of the war.
Their lives were remarkable testimonies to committed Christian faith, and my congregation continues to grieve the loss of these women.
When they died, we did what a small congregation can and should do: surrounded the families with love, celebrated their lives in moving services of memory and witness to the resurrection, and (of course) ate potluck meals together that only church people can pull off.
It might have been overwhelming, especially for the pastor: three memorial services in less than a month, pastoral care to the widowers and families of these women, and even the anxiety of keeping all of the details straight. This does not even take into account that all of this happened as the Lenten season was ending and Easter was arriving.
But it wasn’t overwhelming, even for the pastor. And this made me wonder, why not?
When the church is at its best, it is a community of genuine faith, hope, and love. The church tells its story together, stories of how God has worked in our lives as individuals and as a group. The church hopes together in the promises that God has made to be present with us in the ups and downs of our lives. The church actually lives in love for one another through acts of compassion and kindness. In other words, the church becomes a sacramental reminder of God’s grace.
When the church is at its best, it builds up rather than weighs down.
I am now about to enter my fifteenth year as an ordained pastor. Every once in a while I am reminded how awesome a responsibility the work of a pastor is. Not only do people entrust to the church some of the most sacred moments of their lives, they also look to the church to embody the very presence of the resurrected Christ in the world.
For this recent reminder, I give thanks not only to God, but to Gladys, Ruth, and Anne as well.
Scott Seay is Associate Professor of the History of Global Christianity at Christian Theological Seminary and Interim Director of The Discipleship Project. He is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Center for Pastoral Excellence at CTS addresses the long arc of ministry from discernment to training to sustaining excellence ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.