This month marks ten years I’ve been at Columbus Mennonite.  In a word, it’s been good, and I’m grateful to be thinking about more goodness ahead rather than looking for an exit ramp. 

Pastoring is many things, and I may take some liberties this month or even summer to reflect on pastorhood in the blog.  Here’s one story:

The summer after my first year of seminary I attended a conference that included a panel of seasoned pastors.  One of the questions posed by the moderator went something like “When did you first realize you had become a pastor?”  One pastor’s response stood out.  He told a story from early in his ministry when he was called to the house of a family in which someone had recently died by suicide.  He was asked to carry out the mattress on which the person died because the family couldn’t bear to do it themselves. 

“And that,” he said, “was when I first realized I had become a pastor.”

I remember wondering how I might answer that question someday and if I would have a story that dramatic.  Or perhaps I already did.  One of my closest friends, my college roommate, had taken his own life just a couple months before and I was asked to give the meditation at his memorial service.  It was a soul-stretching experience. 

Maybe that was it. 

But I wasn’t even halfway through seminary and wasn’t in a pastoral assignment.  The question lingered for a couple years. 

When the answer came it was about as undramatic as could be.  During my first year of pastoring Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, still in my 20s, a congregational member only slightly younger than me asked to talk.  We sat down in the church office and he posed the question on his mind: “How do you know a person is the right one to marry?”  Big question.  My first intuition was to lighten the mood in a “How should I know?” kind of approach.  But he wouldn’t let me off the hook.  He had come to his pastor for some insight into an important question in his life.  He wasn’t seeking the definitive answer from me, but he wanted to know what I thought.  My words mattered.

And that’s when I first realized I had become a pastor. 

Everyone’s words matter, but I felt in that conversation for the first time the extra measure granted to people in positions of spiritual authority.  My words mattered, and I shouldn’t forget that. 

Not that I remember anything I said to him after that.  He probably doesn’t either.

Anyways, that was his gift to me.  I’ve been learning about language care ever since and hope to continue to grow in that with you all.