One of the immense privileges of being a pastor is that you are able to be a part of people’s lives at difficult moments. When I was training in the vicar factory I thought that this would be an aspect of the role that I would find really awkward and challenging. I wondered how I would cope. The idea of being present as people’s lives ebbed away or involved in conversations with people whose relationships are struggling felt so far out of my comfort zone that I even doubted if I was called to this role.
But, as I hope you can tell from my description of this as an “immense privilege”, this is an aspect of my ministry that blesses me far more than its blesses those with whom I am ministering. I have been trying to work out why this should be and, while I don’t think I have come to any firm conclusions, I do have one theory.
It seems to me that when the boundaries of our lives are challenged we are most open to an encounter with the divine. So when we are faced with death we realise not only our own mortality but also that there is Someone who is beyond death. When the security of our relationships is shaken we reach out for an unshakeable Relationship. And the role of the Minister in these moments is to help people make those connections. That experience enriches and deepens my faith in the all-compassionate God who is there with us in the dark and tragic times of our lives as well as the bright and joyous ones. Graciously and miraculously he takes the faltering words and awkward silences we offer to him and speaks through them to those most in need of his presence and reassurance.
It is in these moments too that I feel an almost tangible presence of God’s Spirit with me. He provides peace in the face of anguish. He exudes calm in calamitous circumstances. He not only gives the words to say, and the wisdom sometimes to be silent, he also provides me with confidence and strength that I can offer to those for whom they are lacking.
I’m sure that this is not the exclusive experience of Ministers. Any of us and all of us can experience that sense of unexpected peace as we come alongside others. We don’t need to worry about saying the wrong thing (usually saying nothing is worse than saying something) if first and foremost we offer ourselves – our time, our presence, our prayers, our thoughts – and simply say, “I’m here for you.” We find that in those circumstances God is saying exactly the same thing through us.
Be blessed, be a blessing.