Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Thank you for praying

I can’t speak for all pastors, only this one. But I want to tell you that I love it when people don’t ask me to pray.

You know how it so often goes. You’re at a church event, it’s time to eat, and suddenly, all eyes are on the pastor, waiting for her to pray over the casseroles and the jello salad. Or a family in the congregation invites the pastor to their place for dinner. They all sit down at a table covered with piping hot food, they place their napkins on their laps, and then someone says, “Pastor, will you pray for us?”

Now, I know that for a lot of people this is a way of honoring their pastor, and I can appreciate that. But I have to tell you that whenever laypeople pray in a public setting, my heart soars. And when they don’t automatically turn to me and expect me to be the pray-er, I always notice. Hallelujah! They're not looking to me as the professional holy person in our community. They realize that I’m no more holy than anyone else, and God doesn’t hear my prayers above others.

The other night I went to dinner at the home of some Ascension folks, that moment came, and I cringed inside. But no one looked to me. Our host offered a table prayer, and I immediately felt a rush of relief and joy. In fact, I was so overjoyed that I wanted to jump up and kiss him, but he is a married man, so I restrained myself. I'm sure no one sitting at the table realized how much his prayer meant to me.

Occasionally, I’m praying with someone who is homebound or ill, and after I’m done praying for them, they continue with a prayer for me. This has only happened with a handful of people I’ve known in 40 years of ministry, but when I hear them praying for me, it brings me to tears. I’m grateful to them for their prayers, but I’m also grateful to them for recognizing that they, too, can offer prayers of healing for their pastor. Yes, we're all in this together.

I do appreciate it when people show respect for me as their pastor, and I realize that I hold a unique place of honor within our faith community. But it’s not all about me. Other people can pray. Other people can visit the sick. Other people can teach. Other people can preach. Other people can make important decisions. Other people can lead. And if we’re going to faithfully go where God is leading us, the more we share this ministry we’ve been given, the further we’ll go.

This idea is actually one of the pillars of Lutheranism. We call it the “Priesthood of all Believers.” It’s a part of our understanding of Baptism, which is when we all become ministers. The Lutheran Church has taught this for hundreds of years. My experience has been that most Lutherans ignore it.

For Lent this year, during our Wednesday evening services, people from the congregation have planned the worship experiences, and they're leading them. I’m sitting in the pews with the congregation. Yes!

Prior to worship, we get together for a soup supper. On the first Wednesday, before we ate, someone asked me to pray. I started to do it, and then I thought, no, if I pray tonight, they’re going to ask me to pray every night and I don’t want to become the official pray-er. “No, I changed my mind,” I said. “I think someone else should pray.” I expected there to be an awkward silence, or a lot of hemming and hawing around as we cajoled someone else into praying, but that didn’t happen. Immediately, someone stood up and prayed. It felt to me like she was waiting for the opportunity.

And I was a very happy pastor. It’s not just about me being relieved from saying a prayer. It’s about being part of a faith community that understands what it means to be a part of the priesthood of all believers. Thank you for praying!




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