Whatever prompted the outburst, I could hardly believe my ears.
"What do pastors know about real life? They don't even have to make mortgage payments!"
My aunt, with two pastor brothers-in-law, stuck her foot in it that time. The others within earshot must have been equally dumbfounded, because no one said a word in response.
Only the uninformed think a pastor works just one day a week, spending the rest of his time studying to prepare his Sunday sermon. Take it from someone who grew up in a parsonage, whether provided by the church or not.
Dad had to pay rent, his first parish. The place was so drafty he couldn't cover the fuel bill. So, he moved his young family into a small trailer house and parked it in one of the country church graveyards (the outhouse out back was essential, and a grocery store across the road kept us from feeling too isolated). Mortgage or not, a pastor still has to provide for his family.
Since he grew up on a farm, Dad took pride in his big summer garden. It wasn't a frivolous hobby. He needed to feed his family fresh vegetables to keep us healthy. We didn't have extra income for medical insurance. I don't know how many years it took to pay off the hospital bill for the birth of the last baby.
Then there were those times when the pastor could be torn between his church responsibilities and the needs of his family. My father-in-law had to perform a double funeral at his country church, leaving his wife home with such a sick little boy that both parents thought he would be dead before his Daddy returned.
One Easter Sunday my Dad spent the entire day preaching. He had his regular four-point parish stretched across the Dakota prairie, but he covered other congregations without a current pastor. He believed every flock needed its own Easterday service. So, he tore over the gravel roads from the sunrise worship through half-a-dozen others, concluding with the last evening service. I don't suppose he even had time for a cup of coffee, let alone a meal.
"Real life." Everyone experiences it, but pastors carry a double load. Since they bear up others in their times of grief, they are always on call. Dad told how hard it was having to break the news to a woman that her husband had been killed in a car crash. Dad's cautious explanation didn't seem to register with her.
"Oh, that can't be. He'll be home soon, you'll see. Come in for some coffee while you wait."
Funerals for children, soldiers, suicide victims are part of the job description. But, the work of a pastor goes beyond the heartbreaking. He carries a burden for souls that works its way out through many avenues.
If Dad wasn't on the road, we often heard the sound of his clackity typewriter echoing down the stairs from his home office. He wrote to the youth away at college, gone to military service, working in the city. He knew they needed his attention to warn them of the pitfalls of life, to remind them of God's claim on their lives.
Today we have oodles of committees at church to cover youth and education, missions, property management, congregational life, and more. Dad had his church board, the trustees, the ladies aid and the janitor. Former one-room country-school teacher that he was, Dad taught vacation Bible school. He was definitely in his element. Even his tests were fun. We got to role-play telling "an old bum" (Dad, acting the part) about Jesus. And, his Christmas programs packed the house. Written and directed by Dad, these events gave us children the thrill of play-acting. Oh, and he also directed the junior and senior choirs at the church in town.
Pastoring is more than an occupation. It is a calling. As such, a pastor never really retires, even though he is no longer able to shepherd his former flock. He downsizes to one he can manage. In his last days at the nursing home, Dad confided that he needed to stay close to his roommate in the day room.
"I think he has a troubled soul. He cries out 'Help me!' all the time when we're alone in our room."
Real life? Pastors? I'm here to tell you!
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