Just before American Thanksgiving The New York Times asked its readers to tell what they were thankful for. Ten thousand people responded.
Some of the responses were funny: “Braless at home? No one cares.” “Aunt’s Jell-O salad not gonna happen.”
Some were poignant: “Pandemic baby after years of trying.” “Ambulance took him. He came home.”
And some spoke directly to the reality of life in a pandemic: “I am bored but not dead.” “Fell in love six feet apart.”
But there was one response that stood out for me. It read simply, “I am thankful for Pastor Bob.”
What exactly was the church member thankful for? Readers were left to guess. But those of us whose business it is to keep an eye on what’s happening in churches in these strange times can make some educated guesses, based on what we see pastors struggling to do during this pandemic.
Many are spending more time providing pastoral counselling and encouragement over the phone, to people living alone, people who have lost their jobs, people who have lost a loved one.
Many are doing funerals for the loved ones of families who couldn’t say goodbye and can’t even be present for the ceremony.
Many are dropping things into the mailboxes of rural church members: orders of service for next week’s home-bound worship, supplies for an Advent kids’ craft, a simple note of encouragement, or the medication they picked up at the local pharmacy.
Many are grappling to learn new technology required to preach to a camera set up in an empty church instead of the kind of preaching to a physically present congregation they’ve done for most of their career.
Many are spending their days on email, working harder than ever to help their church stay connected, nourished and actively serving their communities.
So, here’s a thought. Let’s just simply be thankful for our pastors, these faithful men and women who have largely set aside their own worries in this stressful time and are continuing to serve both God and their fellow human beings as best they can.
Let’s stop critiquing their less-than-slick videos. Let’s stop suggesting they’re overly focused on Sunday morning, or are trying to shore up a Christendom model of the Church. Let’s stop seeing them as desperately in need of resourcing by the latest expert. Let’s mail them a note, leave a voicemail, send them a text, or simply holler across their lawns to let them know we’re grateful.
It may just do more good than all the critique and resourcing ever could. Let’s thank them.
I’ll start with some of the clergy I know. Thank you, pastors Peter, Maria, Don, Sean, Cheryl and Brent. Thank you, bishops Andrew, Susan, Greg and David. Thank you, school chaplain Stephanie and hospital chaplain Jo.
And thank you Pastor Bob, wherever you are.
Judy Paulsen of Toronto is professor of evangelism and director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College. Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash.