I have a most interesting vocational life. In an era of specialists, I am one of the few generalists left. As the sole pastor of a growing, 500+ member congregation, I have numerous responsibilities and opportunities. Since I do 90% (only vacation Sundays off) of the preaching and worship leadership in what are now two very different worship services, teach 45 confirmation students each Wednesday night during the school year, counsel those facing challenges in life, provide administrative oversight to numerous committees and direct supervision of four part-time employees, I work a very full day. I prefer to be in the office by 7:00 AM so that I can be home by mid-afternoon, see the kids after school, prepare our evening meal and then (if necessary) be back for two or three evening meetings a week. It's not a life for everyone, but it is my life and I generally enjoy it. One of the things our Bishop says upon reflection of her thirty or more years in ministry is that with the exception of six hours a week, she has been fulfilled in her calling every day. My twenty years in church-related work confirm the truth of her observation.
One of the things I realized a long time about being a pastor is that the work is never ever done. There is always one more worship service to plan, one more committee person to make a connection with, one more continuing education seminar to attend, one more employee-related situation to resolve, one more letter to write, one more e-mail to answer. And one more person who would welcome your visit.
Today I had the opportunity to visit with an elderly parishioner who is unable to be a regular attender in worship anymore. She is in her 80s, lives in an assisted care facility, and has been a member of our congregation for many years. It was a delightful visit. I always find that as time-consuming as these pastoral visits are, they are valuable, possibly more so for me than for the person I have visited.
We talked about her life and her interests. I heard about some of her interests more than once (her short-term memory is not quite as good as her long-term memory, a common malady of those in their golden years). Several times she mentioned to me that after high school she went to "hair dressing school" (as she called it) and then went into business for herself for many years. I shouldn't have been surprised, then, when I noticed her on several occasions looking carefully at my head.
It's a strange thing, but here in Minnesota where our culture has been so influenced by northern European immigration over the years, we are generally a rather aloof bunch. We don't feel comfortable standing to close to others, we don't get too intrusive into people's lives, and we shy away from being too close.
As I was bringing our conversation to a close, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, "You know, you have a fine head of hair. I can tell that you're not going to have to worry about going bald. It is always so sad to see a man who loses his hair, but I don't think you're in the category, now, are you?"
I had to smile to myself and feel that our conversation had been important enough to her that she felt comfortable commenting on my hair. This is certainly not a typically Minnesotan thing to do on a first visit, but it indicates that the time I spent with Irene today was well invested.