The circle of life is more than a catchy song by Elton John and Tim Rice. It’s a reality – people are being born, people are dying, and life goes on and on and on.
A few days ago, our granddaughter Analise Kay Taylor made her grand entrance. She is, like my other grandchildren practically perfect in every way – to quote another famous musical number. While waiting in the hospital right after her birth, we shared the waiting room with another family having a very different experience. Their loved one was dying, and in fact, passed away later that same day. The hospital chaplain worked with them, providing comfort and helping process their initial grief.
Experiencing life and death so close together, and watching a chaplain do his work, reminded me of the power of pastoral presence. Some pastors and other church leaders today undervalue hospital and/or bereavement visitation. I hear comments like, “That’s not my calling” or “I have someone who does that for me.” Those are short-sighted perspectives from leaders who are forfeiting the opportunity to care for people when they are most vulnerable and receptive to spiritual ministry.
That receptivity is created by both positive experiences (like the joy of birth) and negative experiences (like confronting mortality during illness or grieving the death of a loved one). Wise leaders – particularly wise pastors - don’t delegate these opportunities to bond with people in profound spiritual and emotional ways.
Today, “building community” is a buzz phrase for many younger leaders. Here’s a clue how to do it that does not involve coffee or your “small group.” Show up when people are hurting, hold their hands, cry with them, and infuse spiritual strength into them by your presence. During my time in that waiting room, my thoughts rehearsed scenario after scenario of past pastoral care ministry moments that resulted in deep bonds which still exist with many people today. Those precious memories are part of what makes pastoral ministry a worthy calling and a worthwhile life investment.