Making a difference in little bits

In this month’s Drinking the Cup, Rev. John Boley celebrates small, ordinary acts of love.

REV. JOHN BOLEY
Clergy Assistant to the Bishop

Last weekend I presided at the Memorial Service of a former parishioner. I was honored to preside and offer a witness to her life and a meditation on our faith. I was saddened by her death and the huge loss to her family. But in several ways, it felt right to be back in that situation.

After doing hundreds of funerals and memorial services as a local church pastor, along with hundreds of weddings, baptisms, sermons and worship services, since leaving the pastorate, I have done little of such things. I miss them. And I miss the way in which you touch lives while a pastor in the local church.

Being invited into the lives of people during these intense moments is an honor. Being present during these sacred times and transitions is a privilege. And it is one of the true joys of being a pastor, whether it is marked by happiness or sorrow. The pastoral role in some ways is like none other.

I am blessed that my father was a long-term pastor in the Detroit Conference. He was a mentor and role model for me and many others. Toward the end of his life, he once reflected on all of the pastoral things he had done. Over his career, he did many more worship services, sermons, funerals, weddings and baptisms than I have. And he suggested to me that even after doing hundreds and hundreds of these pastoral acts, you never really know what kind of an impact you make.

” … never let the big, bad world get you down. Loving acts of ministry live on and on and are always the right thing to do, even when there is not earthshaking impact.”

There is certainly truth in that. But it struck me as sad. I don’t think he had great doubts about the pastoral role or his pastoral effectiveness, but in his mature reflection he wondered about the efficacy of it all, and what kind of difference he made over the course of his ministry career. Especially when looking at the hatred and pain of the world, a little bit of doubt seems fairly normal.

I think I have a bit more confidence than he had. I don’t doubt how I touched the life of the family by conducting the memorial service last week. But I understand where my father was coming from.

What I believe is that there is never an act of love or kindness or pastoral care or liturgical energy or homiletical offering that goes wasted. Despite the very real pain in the world, our pastoral efforts are never wasted, even when the pain of the world makes us feel helpless at times.

To my father, I would say – you were darned good at what you did and you touched more people in a lifetime than the vast majority of us.

To the rest of us clergy, I would say – never underestimate the impact you can make on someone’s life by doing normal pastoral acts of love, mercy and justice.

To the rest of the faithful followers of Jesus Christ, I would say – never let the big, bad world get you down. Loving acts of ministry live on and on and are always the right thing to do, even when there is not earthshaking impact.

 

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