What is it, exactly, that pastors do? The pastoral vocation might be described in specific tasks: preaching, visiting, presiding, leading meetings, praying. Stepping back, though, I’m drawn to pastor Andrew Hermodson-Olsen’s proposal in today’s article below. He suggests that pastors—and others, as well—have the beautiful role of attending to the stories of others. It’s a holy calling indeed.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
The Ministry of Stewarding Stories
Pastor Andrew Hermodson-Olsen
Years ago, early in my ministry as a pastor, I made a hospital call on a parishioner. She was an active member of the congregation, so I knew her somewhat. I expected the conversation to follow a common pattern of talking about how she was doing, followed by devotions and prayer. She took charge of the conversation, however, and began to share some important stories of her past.
As I left that hospital room, I felt like something special had happened. I sensed that she wanted to make good use of this time with the pastor by handing over, in a sense, key stories of her identity. She wanted me to know her. If I was going to be her pastor, then I needed to hear these stories. I was there to receive them without judgment and to reflect the presence of a gracious God.
As I pondered that visit and the trust she had shown me in her sharing, I began to think about my vocation in a new way. Certainly, I am called to proclaim the story of Jesus and to be a steward of the Gospel. I am also a keeper of people’s stories. At times this involves confidentiality. It always involves remembering and respect. I am a steward of these stories knowing the dignity of the person to whom they belong.
To be the steward of stories is not just the vocation of the pastor. I think of doctors, counselors, social workers, and others who are asked to listen and keep the stories of others in their vocations. In even a broader sense, all of us have the opportunity to be stewards of stories with our family, friends, and coworkers who trust us. In those relationships, it may be that we haven’t just been told the story, but we are even in and a part of the important, life-shaping stories of another person.
When we steward a story, we learn when it is appropriate to re-tell, if at all. If we re-tell the story of another, we would certainly want to speak it with respect. Yet in most cases, the stories I am thinking that I have been asked to keep are not to be retold, just remembered, so that I, as a pastor, will better know the person I have been called to love and serve.
I have moved a few times over years serving different churches. In saying good-bye recently to a congregation, some older Christians said to me, “I wanted you to be the pastor at my funeral.” It’s an odd sort of compliment! Yet I hear it again as a recognition of my life with them and my role as a steward. I hold their stories. And that doesn’t mean I am better equipped to do their funeral because I can tell stories about them. There is just a peace with knowing that the pastor and those gathered can both proclaim and hear the Gospel with them in mind. The primary story of Jesus, for which I am also a steward, shines above any other story.
Our stories carry our identity, connect us together, pass on meaning, give us enjoyment, express our griefs and joys. We don’t just have stories to tell, we are stories. When we share our stories, we share ourselves. So, in various ways, we are to steward the stories of others with love and respect.
About the Author
Andrew is a pastor at First Lutheran Church, St. James, MN. He also works with the Southwestern Minnesota Synod in directing a Lilly Endowment grant they received under the National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders.