An awkward lunch with pastors

By The Rev. David Parks | Feb 06, 2013

I was certain it would be a disaster. I felt anxious as I looked to what I imagined would be a difficult meeting.

The participants were, after all, such an eclectic and diverse group of people. The prospect of sitting down together with them for 90 minutes seemed daunting.

What in the world would we talk about? What if things became awkward? What if we got into an argument?

There are more than a dozen of us local ministers that sit down together once a month for lunch. We fill our plates, share stories and pray for one another. We are all pastors and we all like to eat. But, sometimes I wonder if those are the only two things we have in common.

Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, reformed pastors, non-denominational ministers, Baptists, Anglicans, Traditionalists and iconoclasts all laughing, bragging, complaining and confessing to one another.

Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes our differences make me squirm in my seat.

One pastor shares his concern that demonic forces are undermining his new model for ministry. Another describes a local inter-religious group working on housing for undocumented immigrants.

Two more talk about their church’s new openness to gays and lesbians and their advocacy for same-sex marriage. Another one worries that our whole state is sliding down a slippery slope by making such things legal.

Sometimes our diversity seems to stretch us too far.

One pastor is convinced that Christ’s return is imminent and that believers will be raptured from their beds to meet him in the air. Another would like to see prayer reinstituted in public schools.

At the far end of the table, there’s a pastor who doesn’t believe in Hell. Two more wonder if baptism only counts if it’s total immersion.

Some of us never went to college. One has his Ph.D. from Princeton. Some do most of their pastoral care with an iPad on Facebook. There are a few who don’t use computers at all.

Some have “real” jobs outside the church. Others have not known work anywhere but the congregation.

We are both women and men, gay and straight. Some are in coats and ties, some in blue jeans and flip flops. Extroverts and introverts. Some serving huge churches, others in tiny parishes. Old and young, left and right, liturgical and contemporary.

I respect these people. They are devoted and resilient. They are passionate and generous, determined and faithful. They all work hard. They all pray from the heart. I think we all love Jesus.

Sometimes I sit in the circle, look around and say to myself, “What am I doing here?” Or, “How in the world did a group like this ever get together?”

We are all so different from one another in the ways that we think and talk, in the ways we pray and read the Bible, and in the ways we see the world and God’s purposes in it.

Our facilitator works hard to keep the conversation away from theological debate and political wrangling. After all, the reason we convene is all about mutual support and prayer – not a contest over which of us is God’s favorite.

Most of us eat too much, exercise too little and over-function in our ministry. We love what we do and we’re exhausted by what we do.

We smile. We cry. We can’t wait to go to work. We can’t wait for a day off. We thrive on the affirmation of others. We lose sleep over criticism from the pews.

By the end of the meeting, the dessert is gone and prayers are finished. We stand up and shake hands. We say, “God bless you” and we mean it.

Climbing back into our cars we wonder again, “How in the world did this group get together?” I realize that the lunch we shared wasn’t a disaster after all.

Perhaps something higher brought us together. Something big enough and safe enough was at work in the room that allowed us to show our doubts and heresies, our limits and prejudices, and our glorious failures.

It makes me nervous, but I think I’ll go again next month.

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