mM8g9fSThis week’s question is about surprise requests. How do we decide what we can do and what is outside our call or abilities?

Dear Matriarchs, 
It is not unusual for strangers to come to our church asking for help of various kinds, but yesterday brought a new one for me.

A young couple came to our door this week saying they had gotten married a few months before at the courthouse. Now, they felt that something was missing. They were wondering if there was any kind of blessing that I could offer them for their marriage. My response was to spend a few minutes in conversation with them, trying to figure out what they were looking for me to do. Then we went into the chapel and I offered what I hope was a prayer of blessing for their marriage. They seemed OK, and I feel pretty OK with it.

My question for the Matriarchs: Have you ever been surprised by an unusual pastoral request, and how did you handle it?

Sharon Temple: I served a church with a huge pipe organ and an organist who could make that thing sing. The wedding itself was traditional with the usual music up until the end. The couple wanted the “Star Wars Theme” for their “going out” music and I agreed to that. It was great!

Come to think of it, many of the unusual requests in my ministry have related to weddings. I have tried to say yes when I could, but I was not afraid to say no when I just couldn’t do it, pastorally speaking.

Dee Eisenhauer: I said Yes to a 21 year old stranger who wanted to be baptized privately, outside our worship service/worshiping community. I had a couple of church folk witness the brief ritual, which was symbolizing the start of a new life for the young man (whom I gathered had recently emerged from some kind of addiction).

I said No to an unchurched neighbor who wanted me to perform an exorcism; I referred her to the Catholic church up the road, which I guessed might have an exorcism liturgy. I was a bit taken aback, when I shared this story very briefly on a social network clergy group, that several of my colleagues were critical of my refusal to work with the neighbor on an exorcism. But it’s really not in my skill set; I have no regrets about just saying nope.

For our readers: What stories from your own ministry come to mind? And when you say “no” — or “yes” — what informs your decision? Add your own experience in the comments below.

Are you confounded by a ministry situation? Ask our matriarchs! Send your question to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: “You Want Me to do . . . That?

  1. As I made my way across the semi-circle, offering, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” I noticed a visitor looking eager to receive. When I got to her, I said, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” to which she replied without skipping a beat, “and a hug?”

    I didn’t even think. I smiled as I said, “No, I don’t hug people at the Lord’s Table.” For a couple minutes, my brain tried to decide if I’d been right. But I finally let it go and returned to the sacredness of the moment.

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  2. I answered the phone just before leaving for the day – the request was for baptism, for a man in hospice care, from his nurse. They gave me directions – it was way out on a farm, the roads getting smaller, & gravel. It was dark by the time I got there. Turns out his adult children had stopped by & found him actively dying. They wanted him baptized & had the nurse find a pastor. I had been told this was HIS request, which was why I went. Otherwise, I would have said no – baptism is not magic, & he had not chosen to do it. But I was trapped – out there in the dark & way out of town, with my stole in hand…so I was gracious & did it. So much for answering the phone at the last minute!

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