Once upon a time he had been a pastor. Some twenty years ago I had been with him on a retreat for pastors. I didn’t known him well, but he had told a story at that retreat which had stayed with me over all the years. The story was this: At the end of worship one Sunday an older woman had asked him if he could possibly stop by to see her some time. She had received a diagnosis from her doctor and she wanted to speak with her pastor. She lived alone.
On Monday morning he had shown up at her front door. She was a bit taken aback to see him so quickly, but she invited him in and made him coffee. They sat down together in the living room, at which point she collapsed. He held her in his arms, whereupon she died.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, the woman had reached out to her pastor to be with her as she left this world and entered the great mystery beyond. She hadn’t wanted to be alone as she did this — specifically, she wanted the presence of the human being that her community had designated as God’s representative — her pastor.
He had felt terrified — a sense of holy awe. Humbled. Privileged. Something of the very essence of what it meant to be a pastor had been conveyed in that experience.
Obviously, the story affected me, having remembered it all these many years later. I ran into him this past Monday when I officiated at a funeral for the elderly mother of one of my church members. He was working with the funeral director as a chauffer for a limosine service. He had left the parish ministry several years back after having locked horns with his district superintendent. It was the second time that I had met up with him in this capacity.
Both times I reminded him of this story that had stayed with me all these years later. Yes, he agreed, that experience was quite something. This last time I mentioned to him that I had used the story in a sermon, which seemed to please him. I said it seemed to represent something of why we went into this kind of work — for moments like that one, where we are privileged to be present with people as they come to terms with their Maker. Yes, he said, everything else was pretty much bull shit. He had left the ministry because too much of what he was called to do in the role of pastor felt to him like bull shit.
Once upon a time he had done a good thing, and all that it had involved was simply showing up. God of course, had done the rest, but simply showing up was significant. There is that line about “90% of life is just showing up.” I used the line in my play, “No Preacherman”, because I liked it so much. Â If we will just show up when the bidding comes, God willl take care of the rest.