Reclaiming the Office of the Pastor: The Parish Priest

Pastor BannerIn a day and age where being a pastor is being equated with an organizational leader, the average pastor still fills traditional roles typically associated with being a pastor.   A few weeks back I received a phone call from a family I know from a previous pastoral position. They informed me that the father had passed and the 17 year old son asked if I could do the funeral.  I was happy to be there for the family.  When I arrived at the house, they introduced me by saying, “This is our pastor.” It was an honor to be called that but it wasn’t exactly true.  See, I hadn’t been officially their pastor in nearly a decade.  Yet, when they needed someone, they called me.  This family saw me as a their pastor whether they were members of our church or not.

In the past few weeks I have done a funeral and a wedding. In both cases, members of the family commented, “It is so nice to have someone do the service that knows the people they are doing the service for.”  I have wondered about their comments.  It can only be that Pastors today are so removed from their congregations that they don’t perform those functions anymore.  A pastor in a large church may have a staff pastor who does the weddings or funerals because the pastor is too busy.  This is one of the factors that has contributed to the Pastor-as-CEO phenomenon.  Pastors just do not perform historic pastoral functions anymore and the church members know it.

I once heard a pastor say that the role of Pastor is shifting from the hurts and needs of the congregation to the hurts and needs of community.  This statement resonated with me.  I have a congregation that I pastor. But I also have a community that I pastor as well.  Over the past six years I have been asked to do weddings, funerals, counseling, and visiting dying relatives by people who never set foot in the doors of my church.  Being an average pastor has given me the space to be available to people in our community.

Grantchester-Season2-early-iconThis model of being a pastor is reminisent of the English Parish Priest. This reality is depicted well in a PBS show I watched recently called Grantchester.  In the English church, a church was the center of community and the priest felt responsible for everyone in town, whether they attended or not.  In Granchester, Sydney the Priest, often had individuals come to them for their spiritual needs.   They didn’t show up on Sundays but that didn’t mean they didn’t see the pastor of Parish as their pastor.  The Parish pastor is a traditional pastoral paradigm that came from the idea of a Pastor as a Shepherd. The Shepherd takes care of a flock.  He doesn’t run the farm or the city.  He just looks after the sheep and helps whoever is in need.

This is the a paradigm that works  for many average pastors because pastors of larger congregations cannot logistically be available. As average pastors, we are more available to perform these historical functions for people in our church and our community.  I have been in the room of people who have died. I have performed marriages for people who had no other options. I have counseled  people who would never show up in my church but who trust me enough to bear their soul to me.   There are times I feel like there are more people who I pastor outside the walls of my church than inside.  This is one part of being an average pastor I love.

So next time you wish to have the perks of being a pastor of a larger church, remember that you have a ministry that many of those pastors are no able to have.  As an average pastor, you can pastor your community in a way that many pastors cannot.   It is needed in the body of Christ.  The average pastor throughout history has filled this role. It is what Pastors do. Embrace that calling.

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2 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Office of the Pastor: The Parish Priest

  1. Your comment made it sound as though the Parish Priest was a thing of the past: it is current, alive and well as a model of ministry in the Church of England still! I am just such a Parish Priest, with a ministry to the 9,000 people in my parish: only a fraction of whom come to church week-by-week.

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