The best gifts pastors get don’t come under the Christmas tree or during Pastor Appreciation Month. This season I’ll tell you some stories of great gifts I’ve received.
I treasure the fellowship of other pastors. There is this look that passes between us that says, “I know.” I’m so grateful that God opened my heart to fellow shepherds whose traditions are different from my own but who clearly love the Lord, his Word, and his people as deeply as I do.
My favorite memory of pastoral bonds goes back to a concert in the 1990's in our church in western Pennsylvania. It was our custom to have a big Thanksgiving Jubilee the weekend before Thanksgiving. That year we did a musical entitled, “Make Us One.” The highpoint was sharing Communion while the choir sang, “How Beautiful,” by Twila Paris.
At the time, I was part of a small group of pastors who met every other week for prayer, so I invited them and their congregations to join us for the Saturday evening concert. Our auditorium was packed. When it was time for Communion, I invited those fellow shepherds forward to gather around the Lord’s table. I had tears in my eyes as together we served the elements to the people of God. As we did, the choir sang:
How beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread and the sons of the earth.
How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
Is the body of Christ.
I treasure another story, this from my years in Illinois. June was an elegant, active octogenarian in our church. She was getting out of her car one afternoon when a fierce November wind caught the door, knocking her to the ground. She hit her head hard and was rushed to the hospital. Word reached me that she was in a deep coma and not expected to live through the night.
As pastors know, a hospital after visiting hours is very quiet. Up and down the halls some patients sleep, some suffer. I knew this visit would be hard. June’s daughter and son-in-law were in the room when I arrived. The lights were dim, June was still. There wasn’t much I could say or do. I prayed that God would lead her gently home, which he would do before morning.
Afterward, I rode the elevator down with a nurse who was just coming off her shift. She looked very weary. “How’d your day go?” I asked. “It was hard,” she replied. “We lost someone today.”
I stepped alone out into the long, empty corridor. The dark night hung like heavy drapery behind the windows. Then, far down the way I saw Matt coming toward me. Matt and I had been in a pastors’ group for several years, talking, commiserating, laughing, and praying every other Wednesday morning. I was surprised to see him because the Sunday before had been his last. He’d taken a new call in New England. We’d already said our emotional goodbyes and I assumed he was gone. But June’s daughter and son-in-law had been part of his congregation so there he was. It’s what pastors do.
No one else was in that long hall when we met, two shepherds keeping watch over our sheep by night. We embraced but didn’t say much. The gift of that dark night was our bond as pastors in our shared duty to Jesus. It was a fitting farewell.
When I’m with other shepherds I often think of David’s praise:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity! (Ps. 133:1 ESV)
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.