August 23, 2011

do I look/act like a pastor?

Today, a young man wandered into our church building and needed a place to sit for a while.  He looked like he was having a hard time and wanted a quiet place to think, pray, wrestle. 

I invited him upstairs to our sanctuary and told him he was welcome to stay as long as he needed to.

In the middle of the day, I had to run a few errands, so I crept upstairs to see if he was ready to go.  Bent over in prayer, I didn't have the heart to ask him to leave.  I let him know I would have to go, but that the door would be unlocked and he could stay in peace. He was grateful... evidently he had already tried another church in town and it had been closed.  I tried to think if any of the other churches would have staff present at that time of day and I honestly wasn't sure.  It is a small town and pastors are often visiting or in meetings. We can't all afford full time staff for the office. And often our buildings are closed and locked when there are not people present.  It is a sad, but honest reality.

photo by: Dennis Rassing
About 45 minutes later, I came back in. I checked on him and asked if he was okay.  I asked if he needed anything.  He didn't really seem to want to talk.  So I left him to sit and made my way back downstairs.

He came down later and asked if the Catholic church in town had a confessional.  I gently explained that our local priest had three congregations and I wasn't sure if he was here in Marengo today.  He lowered his shoulders and left the building, thanking me for the use of the space.

As a few minutes went by, I wondered why I had not offered to hear his confession.  Mediated individual confession is not something we do often in the Wesleyan traditions.  Often, our prayers are between us and God and the presence of a pastor/priest is not always considered.  We corporately offer confession and we leave space for silent individual confession, but it is not thought of as a means of grace in the same way it is in other traditions.  It didn't cross my mind, to be honest. Well, not until he was already gone. Maybe I doubted my ability to offer what he was looking for.

But then I began to wonder if he had even thought of me as a pastor.  He walked into the church and saw me sitting behind a desk.  I could have been anyone.  A secretary, a volunteer.  Was there anything about me that would have led him to believe that I was someone who was willing and able to offer forgiveness and grace to him?  That I have been called to God to offer prayer and time and the word with him?  Or did he simply see a nice young woman sitting behind a desk, who offered a place to sit for a while?  As he asked about the local Catholic church, was his background such that he would have even considered a female to be someone he could talk with about what was on his mind?

For the first time in a long time, I wished that I had been wearing a clerical collar in the office.  I wished I had a name tag on that said "Pastor Katie." I know I told him my name and I asked for his, but now I can't remember if I had mentioned I was the pastor. We don't normally have folks walk in off the street, but it does happen.  And I want them to know that I am here for them... and in a small town like this, I want them to know that a pastor is available and willing to minister to them in whatever way that they need. In some ways, I feel like I failed in that today. I take a lot for granted and I get comfortable in my own skin in the office.  I didn't think intentionally about carving out space for my pastoral role regarding this particular person. 

But then again, maybe space was all he needed. A friendly face, a non-judgmental smile, a place to sit.

That young man remains in my prayers.  I don't know where he came from or where he is going. I pray that although I wasn't the person he turned to, and although I might not have responded the way I should have, that he will find the peace and the comfort that he is seeking.  


  1. I'm glad you were there for him by opening the door and inviting him to stay unquestioned for a while. That was a gift of hospitality. Thank you for sharing. You provided what he needed and nothing more - sometimes that is the greater gift.

  2. I just read Matthew 13:31-32 and it made me think of this post.