Friday, May 7, 2010

Reverend Ham

Some of you know and some of you don't that the Lutheran Church in Lake Woebegon has a new pastor. Reverend Barbara Ham came to Lake Woebegon just before Easter to fill in between the abrupt departure of Pastor David Inqvist and the next pastor (whomever that will be). Apparently, Pastor Barbara has caused quite a stir among Prairie Home Companion fans because Garrison Keillor describes her as overweight, gossipy, an ineffectual preacher and someone who talks on her cell phone in public restrooms.

Longtime PHC fans have expressed frustration with Keillor that the appearance of a female pastor in Lake Woebegon is so disappointing.

I don't think Keillor thinks for a second that all female pastors are like this. But I do think (and I believe he does as well) that some are. GK isn't creating a caricature, he's simply telling it like it is.

Pastors aren't talented and virtuous because of their gender. They are through dedication, patience, hard work and the gifts of the Spirit. Poor pastoral habits aren't limited to men, there are plenty of women in pastoral office who abuse their power, who don't have appropriate boundaries, who don't practice good self care or whose talents lie somewhere other than in the pulpit. That's just the reality of the pastorate and church life.

Rev. Ham is a fictional character and she no more represents all female pastors than Pastor Inqvist did all male ones. But she does represent the reality of the church- pastors are people too.

We'd all like our pastors to hold to the orthodoxy we don't have the patience for, practice the faith we don't have the discipline for, sit with the mystery that we don't have the openness for and love those we don't have the time for. But church doesn't work like that.

Pastors work hard. They lie awake and think of you when you're sleeping. They sit in their cars and weep when they know you're aching, so they can be stronger in your presence. They provide a backdrop to weddings and funerals- scanning the situation to help things be as smooth for you as possible. They stare over Bible texts and pray for guidance to say what God wants you to hear. They seek creative ways to help you hear it. Pastors will pull weeds, meet the ambulance, trim beard hairs, literally feed people, wait with the dying, sit in silence, engage in email correspondence, go on field trips, sing to spiders, show up early and leave late.

Pastors will also swear, get exasperated, feel confused, get sick, make decisions that result in poor outcomes, interpret Scripture wrongly, say things they don't mean, procrastinate, have feet of clay, ignore burning bushes, adopt heterodox beliefs, question their faith, sing flatly or sharply, forget the words to the Lord's Prayer, lay in bed on Sunday morning and wish they didn't have to get up, and sometimes wish they could jump in a bush when they see you coming.

Pastors are leaders of the baptized- ordained for order, not because they have special powers. They dedicate their lives to being where others might not be able to be, to praying when others cannot pray, to trying to explain what's explainable and to holding you through the inexplicable. But through all that- they are still people.

Reverend Ham isn't bad woman pastor. She's just a woman pastor who's not all she could be. What remains to be seen is how people will respond to that. Will Clint Bundsen call the Bishop and say, "I think this pastor needs a sabbatical and some continuing education. Could you send us a more intentional interim and give us some direction here?" Will the Church Council say, "Pastor Ham, we know you're here to help us, but these are the things that are important to this congregation. Here's a little bit of our history. We need help understanding ourselves and then understanding how we relate to the rest of creation." Will Rev. Barbara have the patience and insight to listen to that?

Pastors work alongside a congregation. Too often we think of them as working for a congregation and we only do that when we realize there's a problem in the relationship.

It's a complicated relationship, that of a pastor and a congregation, but at its best the relationship should have mutual and healthy support that causes everyone involved to remember Who is really in charge.


LoieJ said...

I haven't heard Garrison lately, so I have wondered if the people writing about his recent monologues have been over reacting or whatever. I think you have a good take on the general situation of what he writes about, and about pastors in general. Too often people either put the pastor on an unrealistic pedestal or push a pastor off of somebody else's pedestal.

I've never thought that Garrison's take on Lutherans was an inside view, but that he grew up here surrounded by Lutherans. I think he has never been a Lutheran, although apparently he has been Brethren and Episcopal, based on what I've read.

His take on anything is sometimes very deep and other times deliberately two dimentional. We don't usually react with dismay when he makes comments about other groups of people, so why would we when he talks about pastors?

I've commended your post to Susan Hogan. Hope that is ok with you.

Book_Writer said...

From your parents, who have been there, you have grasped the essence of what it means to pastor. It is a tough, time-consuming, all-encompassing job - regardless of gender - and the smart congregation will recognize talent and not allow gender to cloud its perception of the pastor's work. That said, as you have so cogently pointed out, it is critical that the congregation and the pastor remember that they labor in the vineyard of Another who owns the grapes, but asks for good caretakers and looks for a bountiful harvest.