In the middle of the afternoon, it hit me. It felt like a ton of bricks, but not violently all at once. More like someone lowering a ton of bricks onto my shoulders very slowly, over the course of let's say five or six minutes. But by the end of that time period, there was little doubt that I had been hit with the metaphorical 2,000 pound load.
See I am in the practice of putting names into my palm pilot, names of people hospitalized, sick, having surgery, going through tough family issues, etc. Basically people who I feel like I need to check up on, keep in touch with, pray for, and visit. My Sony Clie handheld device has a "Memo" feature that I use for this purpose. I can also write notes about each person to remind me of what exactly is going on with each one.
This afternoon when I turned it on and opened up my memo list, I was confronted with no less that twenty-eight names. Twenty-eight! How in the world did we accumulate twenty-eight souls on the pastoral care list? Quickly scanning the list, I identified two people for whom the crisis had passed, and I removed them. But that did little to relieve the weight of bricks on my shoulders. There is no way I could give adequate care to twenty-six different people.
See, here's me: If I could, I would personally visit each one of them. I would spend an hour or two in deep, meaningful conversation with each one about God's presence in the midst of suffering, the joy of having a spiritual home filled with good Christian friends to support you, and the precious gift of life that God so graciously gives all of us. If I could, I would be the pastor about whom they would later say, "And wouldn't you know, Andy came and visited me every single day while I was sick. What a nice person he is!"
But I can't. I can't be with all twenty-six of the people on my list. The physics of time and space make that literally impossible. And I would make myself sick trying. So what is a people pleasing pastor to do?
Here's what happened: When I stopped to think about it, I realized that almost every one of the people on my list has been visited by multiple people in the church already. I know this because they report to me: "I visited with Mary today" or "I sent Ray a card this week" or "I'm bringing Theda a meal this week, she doesn't like the food at her new place." And every time one of those people came to report to me, I affirmed them and thanked them for their compassion. So, I was in effect providing pastoral support for the people who were providing pastoral care for the ones on my list, which is a pretty good thing for a pastor to be able to do, I think.
As I thought about it, the ton of bricks gradually lightened. I called five of the people on my list, and we had some delightful conversations over the phone. And I came home for the day feeling like I had done some good stuff, and once more thanking God for being pastor of such a remarkable congregation. A congregation where that line in the bulletin that reads, "Ministers: All people of the church," really means something!
(By the way, there are pictures of our congregation's Pumpkin Patch over at the newsletter blog: click here to see them.)