Particular Friendships

We pastors are a nomadic sort. Rare are the days when a pastor stays at one congregation his entire time in office. It seems among we Lutherans that an average stay at a congregation is anywhere from three to seven years. A wise pastor once told me that it takes at least five years for a pastor to get to know his flock and another five years to get to know the community. Needless to say, there is a gap between this pastor’s wisdom and the true picture of the Ministry.

Because we pastors don’t often stay so long at one place, it’s hard to make friends within a congregation. Some might say that’s a good thing. There is a school of thought that says the pastor should not have particular friendships within his congregation. Particular friendships could lead to favoritism or the loss of a friendship when the pastor ceases to be a friend and must, for the sake of his sheep, be a pastor. These circumstances are few and far between, but the possibility is there.

If one accepts this theory, then who are the pastor’s particular friends? Trusted brothers in the Ministry and their families. We are all in the same boat together. While the families we serve celebrate holy days like Easter and Christmas together, we are far from our own families and must find a way to celebrate. My family has invited pastors and their families for Christmas and Easter. We become sort of adopted family members for a while.

Then there are those pastors who believe it’s acceptable to have particular friendships among members. God willing, this can be a hallmark of a long and faithful pastorate. It can also make for difficult good-byes should the pastor take another Call. I know of several pastors who are very close to certain members and find a way to make it work. It can be delicate, but most of the time the laity know their pastor is a human being who has the same foibles they do.

Where I once served I had some particular friendships. We were close, but not family close. Departing from their midst was tough. My family and I try hard to stay in contact with them through the occasional phone call, not to mention the inevitable Christmas card. We were blessed to have a pastor close by who was more than a friend. He was almost family. There were other pastors, but distance kept us apart more than together.

Where I serve now I have the best of both worlds. I’ve developed a particular friendship with one person in the congregation that’s blossoming before my eyes. We are close with a few other families in the congregation in a way that we were not close at my last charge. I am blessed with trusted brothers in the Ministry not that far away. We get together frequently to let our children play and let the adults be human beings rather than pastors and pastors’ wives.

It’s this best of both worlds that often makes me count my blessings. Being lonesome is no fun. I’ve been there and would rather not revisit it. I’ve had to be a pastor to people I’ve grown close. God be praised that those times have not affected friendships. If anything those friendships grow tighter.

Most, if not all, my brother pastors know what I’m going through. They are praying for me. They are there for me when I need them. I treasure our brotherhood and our friendships. The same for their families. It’s fantastic to be close to so many Christian people. There are a few in my congregation that know my story. Those who do know are sympathetic. They are the ones whom I trust. They are the ones who pray for me and my family. Perhaps they know the struggles of depression better than I do.

Where do I fall on friendships? It’s nice to have the best of both worlds at last.

-KT

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