I am preaching the Bible Conference at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Johnson City, TN. This morning, just before I was to enter the pulpit in this wonderful congregation, I spotted some of my former parishioners in the pews. At the moment when I saw them, I choked up. Thankfully, there was a little more of the anthem to go. I pulled myself together but thought it right to mention that I knew they were there. I took the opportunity to talk about my new role as president of RTS Charlotte: a pastor still, but now shepherding a “school of the prophets” and encouraging a ministry of spiritual and vocational formation for pastors and missionaries. But the truth is, though I focused on the message and the work of the Gospel before me, I was anxious to see the folks I spotted. We all greeted in the narthex. They too, as it turned out, had choked up in hearing me preach. We both admitted that it was hard. And all of this reminds me, what I was supposed to know: that the pastoral cords which once united pastor and people are not easily dissolved. Time and distance can not sever those cords. New ministries and new pastors cannot do it. Eventually, of course, one settles into the reality of what is new. But you never forget. And I am not sure the Lord ever wants us to.
I have often said that I went to my last call as an evangelist. But I left as a pastor. And today confirmed it. So I pray that I bring that heart of a pastor to the work God has called me to now. For moments of ministry now are forming new bonds. May they too never be broken.
A note on the graphic for this entry: I saw a print of this remarkable painting by the great Aberdeenshire artist, Joseph Farquharson. The painting, “The shortening winter’s day is near a close” (1903, © Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool), was hanging in the pastor’s study as I prepared to preach this day. I have no doubt that my heart was cultivated by my study of the painting before I went out to preach this morning. But bringing the food of Word, Sacrament and Prayer to the sheep of Christ, in their week-in-and week-out winters of life, is a privilege and the happy burden of every pastor.