A friend of mine left for Heaven Sunday night. Sheron was a wife, mom, grandmother, sister, my friend and one of the gentlest spirits I've known. After a week's worth of days we thought would surely be her last, she finally, quietly, breathed one last time on Earth and took her first breath in Heaven. It was an incredible privilege to be there with her family this last week, invited into that sacred space, which families reserve for "family only" plus, usually, one more - their pastor.
I don't actually pastor my "own" church anymore, to put it the way I'm most commonly asked. I serve alongside Texas Baptist pastors and their churches as I lead the Connections Team for Texas Baptists (the BGCT). So, I don't get the honor as often, anymore, that I received a week ago when my phone rang and the caller asked me to join their family at Sheron's deathbed. But, in this instance, it was fitting. Sheron's family doesn't have their "own" church, either. I, the pastor without a church, serve this family without a pastor.
My journey with Sheron's family began a little over a decade ago, when they asked me to perform the funeral of a loved one. I didn't know them, really, but they knew someone who attended the church I was pastoring at the time, so they called me. From the beginning, it was clear to me it was a divine assignment, so I continued to reach out to them and meet with Sheron's husband on a regular basis. Two Christmas Eves ago, Frank texted me to let me know he was enjoying that Christmas, for the first time, with a Savior.
Frank and Sheron have never found a comfortable way to attend church, though they both grew up going. Now, as senior adults, they've shown clear signs of hunger for spiritual things. Sort of like the Millennials so much is written about, except Frank and Sheron aren't in that age bracket. So, I'm their pastor. I've been discipling and serving them as if they attended the church I don't even pastor, and they let me into that sacred space of life people only allow their pastor.
I think this is what I miss most about pastoring a local church - the sacred space. It's far more than routine pastoral care. Most aspects of pastoral care can be shared among church staff ministers and even gifted, well-equipped lay leaders and ministers, but this sacred space stuff is more than that. It's where families let you in deeper and closer than they do anyone else. Where people let you into the "holy" in their lives, because you're their pastor. To be allowed in like that, though it often involves helping bear the heaviest of burdens, is far from burdensome. Sacred space is an incredible honor. A privilege. A blessing. This week, I learned I miss it.