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Real Answers™
dl139
Copyright: © 2008 Donald E. Lindman
560 words

THERE ARE NO EX-MARINES OR EX-PASTORS

By: Don Lindman

I once called a friend an “ex-Marine.”  He quickly corrected me.

“There are no ex-Marines.  Retired Marines, yes, but ex-Marines, no.  You are always a Marine.”

I am a “retired pastor.”  I’ve discovered that for many of us clergy, you never are an “ex-pastor.”  “Retired pastor,” yes, but you are always a pastor.

When we were younger, that idea bothered many of us.  We didn’t like the idea of our work being a “life sentence.”  We chafed at being set on the proverbial pedestal, from whence it seemed so easy to fall.

But the fact is that we are always pastors, unless, of course, we quit in mid-stream.  Then we may be “former pastors,” which recognizes our previous occupation but also carries with it a hint of failure.

I didn’t really get the full meaning of this situation until I retired from the active ministry and went to work for a retirement community as their liaison with churches and pastors.  When I would call pastors for an appointment, I found I was about 50% more likely to get one if I introduced myself over the phone as a “retired pastor.”

In this time of religious fragmentation and division there is a collegiality among the clergy that transcends almost all barriers.  There is a sense of trust, reliability, and empathy. 

Skeptics probably would want to compare it to the proverbial honor among thieves, but those pastors I visited had the right to expect me to understand the demands on their time and the nature of church work.  In return they gave me a higher level of trust than they would give the average salesperson.

I believe the reputation of the clergy has been rising over the past decade or two, and that’s nice to see.  There was a time when we ranked just a notch above used car salesmen in public opinion polls. 

In my retirement I’m finding that I can’t get away from being a pastor.  I wanted to.  I had done this work for 40 years and wanted to be free from its demands and restrictions.  But people still call me “pastor,” even people to whom I never was “pastor” during my working years.

And I’ve found I can’t escape the desire to proclaim the message (“preach,” for those of you who aren’t used to religious phrases).  I can’t escape the desire to help others, and I can’t escape my own personal relationship with God, a relationship that includes the mysterious phenomenon of “the call,” about which we speak often but can never clearly define.

St. Paul wrote of himself as having been “called by God” to his work.  A lot of pastors understand what he means.  And although he faced tremendous opposition and hardship, he also witnessed “since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

“Pastor” has been a vital part of who I have been for over 40 years.  I can’t throw that away without throwing much of myself away in the process.

So, whether I’m in the company of a Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopal priest, or a Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Disciples, or independent church pastor, there is a bond.  We may have just met, and we may disagree about theology and polity (church government; another lesson in religious terminology), but we are brothers and sisters in the Christian ministry.  

"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091; amyfoundtn@aol.com

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