Friday, October 21, 2011

Shepherds and their Sheep: Part 1 of 2

October is pastoral appreciation month. At my church, its a month long celebration. As we have expressed gratitude for our special pastor this month, I've thought often about the unique role a pastor plays in a small town.  Counselor, social worker, spiritual guide, friend, adopted parent or grandparent, advocate, sports fan, volunteer chaplain, coffee drinker.....the list goes on and on. We have pastors in our community that have served their congregation for generations, attending births, deaths and marriages over the span of their parishoners' lives. And we have had those that have spent just a few years in service to our churches and yet they have left a lasting impression on the church and community.

Over the next few weeks, we thank the pastors that have served in the most specialized of fields, the small town. Whether you are a believer or not a believer, I think we can all agree that pastors of small towns serve in what I suspect is a pretty challenging role and SUCCEED in modeling a true heart of service. Thank you!

Thank you to Rachel Lancey, Pastor of Tarkio's Presbyterian Church for her special contribution this month to the blog and her greater contribution to our community.

          My friends warned me.  “Small towns don’t do women pastors,” they told me.  “They will not welcome you,” they said.  They were scared for my life.  Of course, I found this ironic since many of them lived in places that showed up on the list of the most violent places to live.  But, still, they warned me.  I have to say, they got to me just a little bit.

            “Don’t go to a small town,” they warned.  “It will be too hard there.”  They were worried.  They had heard the horror stories.  Of course, I have heard them, too.  The young pastor moves to the small town and suddenly the fishbowl is brought out.  There were stories where people just wandered in and out of the pastor’s home without knocking or caring, even, if the pastor was dressed.  These, in case you do not get to hear the stories I hear, are tame compared to some of the others.  On top of all that, throw into the mix the idea that I was going to this small rural town as a single, young, female pastor. 
            I truly expected the worst.  I grew up in a small town.  I expected the snide remarks and the sideways glances.  I expected that people would watch my every move and things like social boundaries would be hard to instill and maintain.  But, when a pastor is called (as we say) to a ministry, they go.  There is no questioning (okay... well... there are some questions, but God always wins in the end), you just go. 
            What I did not expect... was the love.  Even from those who are open about the fact that they do not approve of a woman minister, there is something there.  I truly believe that I can call up any of the people I have met since moving to this small community and ask for just about anything and I would get it.  I believe that the hearts of this community are larger than life.  Sure, there are still a few small-town stereotypes that are very much a part of living in Tarkio.  But, nothing compares to the experience of walking through the grocery store and being able to talk to people in every aisle.  Nothing beats walking down Main Street and waving at the passers-by.
            Not everyone in Tarkio likes the fact that I am a pastor.  Most of those who do not like this woman pastor being in town think they are hiding it fairly well.  Some are not trying to hide it at all.  But, generally, people are respectful anyway.  This, I believe, is the difference between life in the city and life in the small town. 
In the city, people do not care who you are if you do something with which they do not agree.  In the city, people get into your face and sometimes things can get ugly.  In Tarkio, people look first at the person.  In Tarkio, I have found that even those who believe and think completely different than I do are still able to see me for who I am.  In Tarkio, we find commonalities first and learn to disagree politely. 
            I am not naive.  I know that the sideways glances and some of the remarks are still out there.  I have heard a few and I have seen the looks.  But, this town supported me during a very rough first year when I faced a challenge much deeper than whether or not someone agreed with my theology.  People reached out to me and hugged me in a way that I never expected. 
            I may always be the “new girl”.  I may always be the “woman pastor”.  Even with all of that, I have found a home here.  I have found a family here.  The best part of serving a wonderful congregation in the middle of rural America is that I can love these people for everything they are and for everything God created each of us to be.  And I know that this community really cares about each other.  It is the greatest blessing we have.  

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