When I was in seminary, I recall being advised to find a mentor, so when I needed help I would know who to call. Trying to narrow down a decision to only one or two people is extremely difficult! I have learned that there are so many pastors who have impacted my ministry and have helped me along the way, and there is no room for everyone on this list.
Ministry is hard, and it requires so much of giving up of oneself, and believe me, that doesn’t go unnoticed. My favorite part of working with other pastors is learning what they do best and making a mental note of it, so if I run into a problem in their area of expertise in the future, I know who to call. I have pastors who I call when I have a question with youth programs, I have pastors I call when I have a question on counseling, there are pastors I call when I have a struggle with my position, I have pastors I call when I am struggling in my personal life, etc… Everyone has given me something unique to pass on in my ministry, and everyone is needed in my life. So thank you to all!
Childhood leaders: the pastors who showed me how to pay it forward
There were several people at my home church I’d consider pastors (even though they weren’t technically pastors), because they were people I remember ALWAYS being at the church for VBS, AWANA, youth group, Christmas programs, Sunday School, etc… Home didn’t always feel safe, and school didn’t always feel welcoming, but at church, I felt safe, smart, appreciated and just in general, a good kid. Today, not a youth night goes by that I don’t think of our kids and wonder if any of them are in the shoes I once wore, and if so, I want them to feel safe, smart, appreciated and just in general, good kids. On days I’m exhausted and I don’t feel like dealing with loud and excited kids, the faces of Pastor Rick, Sharon, Pastor Monte, Kim, Merlin, Judy, Mary Jane, Mark, Mary, April, Valerie, etc… come to mind and I am reminded if they did it for me, I can certainly do it for these kids.
Greg and Poppy: the pastors who became my second parents
When I graduated from high school, I (metaphorically) escaped to a camp four hours away for two and a half months to get away from home, was an extremely difficult year with my parents’ divorce. Greg and Poppy were my bosses who were available to help me through my family frustration and help me to learn to forgive and move on. If I needed a shoulder to cry on, if I needed a laugh, if I needed encouragement, if I needed to write a whole entire novel in one email (that Greg could summarize into one sentenceJ) they were always there. Greg and Poppy taught me a lot about how sometimes our families can fail us, and that is why God gives us His family to fill any void. I want to be a person who shows people, church is family. We go through joys and laughter, bumps and bruises, but in the end (in the words of LILO AND STITCH) “Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
Scott and Carol: the pastors who taught me to believe in people
Scott was my supervisor at camp, and by far is the best supervisor I ever had. If I were Mary Richards, he’d be my Lou Grant. He taught me how to mow, drive a tractor, weedeat, care for plants and flowers, and to have an appreciation for God’s creation. Scott, Carol and I all ended up going to seminary together. They’d call and ask if I wanted to go to the movies with their family or if I wanted to come over for supper. Carol helped me when I needed help with classes (especially that darn Shelby class!) And I’ll never forget Carol praying over my mom and me at commissioning one year. I appreciated their mentorship and their welcoming home. A little over a year after our graduation, Scott suddenly died. It was the first time I lost a friend, more so, a father figure, and it was so painful. He used to say to me often, “You’re not who you were when I first met you because you let God work on you.” I miss hearing him say that. We all need to be reminded that we are capable of changing and being better people, because we can often feel like we are struggling with the same ol’ stuff day in and day out. I want to be able to believe in people like that, especially our youth.
Phil and Sheila: the pastors that journeyed with me to find my inner nerd
I had grown up in a home that talked about God a lot but theological conundrums were frowned upon. Even to this day, I’m told theologians think and analyze too much. I’m not sure how Phil knew I was a theologian while in his classes at seminary, but somehow he figured it out, and somehow got that inner undiscovered nerd inside me to come to the surface. I think of Phil as one of my Mr. Keatings (as in Robin Williams’ character in “Dead Poets Society”). He challenged me to use critical thinking and to search for myself an understanding of God. As a result, I walked into seminary with beliefs and out with convictions. In my ministry, I want more than anything, for people to go from beliefs to convictions. Sheila has taught me that faith is a journey we will never fully arrive at until it’s all said and done. It’s a good reminder for myself, but also a good reminder as I work with others. We are all in this boat together. We are all seeking, we are all searching, and we are all finding, together.
Bob and Audrey: the pastors who taught me to pastor
I worked alongside Bob and Audrey in my last appointment. They have to be two of the most pastoral people I know. If I had a question, they would answer. If I heard bad news of a church member in a former appointment committing suicide in the middle of the Christmas season, and I needed to talk to someone, Audrey was there. If I needed someone to help move the sound system in the chapel, Bob was there. If there was a 5 gallon bucket found full of rotten boiled eggs, they were there to experience the stench with me. I appreciated how whenever they were in town for whatever reason, they intentionally stopped by my office to hear how things were going. Audrey is the one person, who can get me from absolute frustration and/or tears to laughter in a matter of moments. And it wasn’t just their ministry to me, but also their ministry to the corps people and their employees, that spoke clearly and loudly to me what it means to be a pastor. And for the record, I can’t leave out Stacy—the girl who LOVES to hug, who LOVES the Oak Ridge Boys, who LOVES to shred paper, who LOVES to call me Little Debbie (and then claim she forgot I don’t like to be called that J), and who LOVES to remind me that Johnny (my least favorite dog ever) has the same birthday as me. :-) Stacy, you are such a blessing, indeed!
Melody: the pastor who taught me about the ministry of presence
Melody and Rick were a year ahead of me in seminary and then we ended up being in the same district after I graduated. We became good friends in those 5 ½ years. Melody always comes up with the zaniest ideas of how to pass time, like singing old Amy Grant hits into a McDonald’s straw, or suggest wrapping up a (live) woodchuck in a blanket to give to a mutual friend. She is also one of the most loyal people I know. She is always willing to lend an ear at any time. She has been through thick and thin with me in my life as a pastor and continues to be a support for me. The greatest gift Melody has ever given me was the one year anniversary after Scott died, she went with me to the camp where he and I had worked together and she listened as I told story after story. As we were walking back to the parking lot, she asked if I was ready to go, and I said I wasn’t. She and I sat on outside steps nearby. I appreciated that Melody just sat with me in the silence of nature, allowing me to mentally put closure on Scott’s life. She has definitely taught me that ministry doesn’t always require words, but it always requires presence. Oh yes, and that ministry is meant to be fun!
Vicki: the pastor who understands what not everyone does
I met Vicki through Melody several years ago, but it was when I was diagnosed with a Learning Disability a few years ago, that I really got to know Vicki. She has come alongside me and has helped me adjust to this new concept in my life. I don’t know how to describe to someone what it’s like to have gone 30 years of my life feeling like I was the dumbest person in the world with the lowest IQ ever, and then to suddenly have someone say, “You’re IQ is perfectly fine. It’s the processing of information that has a hiccup in it. You’re not stupid.” It’s a moment of great relief. I’m not sure most people get that moment, but I feel like Vicki does. She’s never made me feel like I’m making up excuses, just trying to find pity, or get attention, but rather I feel like she truly understand the struggle and wants to do whatever it takes to help me succeed in a way that works for me. Vicki has been a source of encouragement to me and understands my frustration. If I ever run into a situation like this in my future ministry, I hope I can give the same encouragement to do whatever it takes to help someone succeed despite whatever hurdles are in the way.