In many ways, it is hard to believe, but this week marks my 35th year in ministry (including my years as a student pastor). The Rev. Paul Muscke, the District Superintendent of the Butler District, appointed me to serve the Branchton United Methodist Church. I think every pastor could write a book about his or her experiences as a pastor. Seminary does not prepare you for many of these experiences. Many of these experiences leave lasting impressions; I should probably say many of the people behind these experiences are not soon forgotten.
Rose is one such individual whom I will not soon forget. Rose is an eccentric woman. I wonder what has become of Rose. Rose did not seem to have anyone in her life, except her cats. Rose walked with a severe limp. I learned she had been hit by a car. Rose was always at the church looking for a handout. I did my best to be in relationship with Rose, but she made it quite difficult. For example, I took Rose to the grocery store to buy her some groceries. Rose is a very frail and thin woman. When we went into the grocery store, she took a shopping cart, and the smile on her face told me she was in “heaven.” I thought I would give her the dignity of picking out her own groceries and waited near the check out to simply pay for her items when she had finished.
When Rose finally appeared at the checkout, I noticed she had a buggy full of cat food—and nothing for herself. “Rose,” I objected, “I don’t want you to buy cat food. I want you to buy food for yourself. You obviously are not eating, and I want you to be healthy.” Rose looked at me with a glare and said, “Just shut up, and go and sit in the car!”
They don’t teach you in seminary how to deal with abusive people. But Jesus does; He tells us to love everyone, even those who persecute you.
Seminary doesn’t teach you how to deal when the pastor’s heart is broken. A young man rang the doorbell at one of my parsonages. He said he needed to talk. As he poured out his heart, his need became very clear. He wanted to go home and he needed me to finance the trip. Home was near Nashville, Tennessee. I did not have the funds to finance his trip home. I apologized, and he thanked me for my time.
I stood in the doorway as he walked down the steps with his head hung low. As he walked down the sidewalk I heard him begin to sob, and between sobs, I could hear him cry, “I just want to go home! I just want to go home, and no one will help me.”
My heart broke for that young man. I could only pray that somehow, someway, that young man made it home.
Home—there is no place like home—a place where you are loved unconditionally, a place where you feel safe, a place where you know you belong.
Our girls have often lamented over the years that my being an itinerant preacher means they have no real place to call home. I have always reassured them that home is wherever we are. “Home is where the heart is.”
I have heard many people from all walks of life lament, “I just want to go home.”
The church must be “home” for all people—a place where they feel not just welcomed, but needed to complete the family. It must be a place where everyone is accepted and loved, even the difficult ones like Rose.
God’s house is a house for all people.
Thank you for helping make Sewickley United Methodist Church home to so many diverse people. Indeed we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Won’t you invite someone to come home, that they too might get to experience God’s grace and unconditional love?
Photo by darwin Bell