Sometimes I think that my real job is having conversations.
The other day the Office Manager buzzed my office phone. "There is someone here who wants to talk to a pastor", she said. "Do you have time?" I said yes, I would be right out.
I know what this means, usually. Usually "someone wants to speak with a pastor" means someone is looking for a gas voucher, or a few groceries, or some help for the bus. Not always, but usually.
I greeted the man sitting in the reception area, and invited him to come back to my office. "How can I help you?" I asked.
He told me a little of his story. As it turns out, he was about my age. He had grown up in this area, but hadn't been back since he served Vietnam. He had gone over for a year in 1972. Since then he had lived in a variety of places. He had must moved back to a Small City near here because we are know for having a good VA system. (We do, I think.) He told me that his mother had been the first African-American nurse in one of our local hospitals. He talked about some of the advocacy work he had done in his life. He said that he still struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
He said he had been looking for churches in his city, but hadn't found the right one yet. Still, he found the people around here pretty friendly. I was glad to hear it. I hoped that it continued to be true. I secretly wished he had moved to my city. I'd invite him to worship with us.
He did need a gas voucher, he said, so that he could get back to the Small City where he now lived. I gave him a gas voucher, and was grateful for the conversation. We blessed each other as he left.
A few days later, I went to visit at a building that had a security code. I was looking for a parish member who had moved, but it turned out that she only moved one building down. The receptionist gave me the code, which I pressed to get in.
She used to be a regular worshipper at our early service. I remember exactly where she sat, on the aisle, in the middle. She had this unmistakable raspy voice, and she always grabbed my hand and asked how I was doing. She came to church by herself, early enough to get that aisle seat.
She hadn't been to church in a long time, but I recognized her. She was in a wheelchair now, but she had the same voice. I don't think she remembered who I was, but when I told her I was from church, her face lit up. "I go to that church," she said. "I know," I replied. "I remember you. You always sat in the same place."
"I moved here two months ago," she told me. I wasn't sure if that was true, but I went along with her. "My husband died two years ago," she said. She had been a widow ever since I knew her. We talked for awhile. She asked me again who I was. I told her I was from the church. She smiled, well, beamed, really. "I go to that church," she said.
She showed me pictures of her two sons, and their families. She was proud of them. I admired the pictures, admired the room. Said it was a great place. "Do you like it?"
She did. "Would you like someone to come and visit you, and give you communion, someone from the church?" I asked. She thought that was a great idea. When I said the name of the church, she smiled again. "That's my church," she said.
"My husband died two months ago," she said. "I am sorry to hear that," I told her, even though I knew she had been a widow for many years. She looked me in the face and said, "You're very pretty." I smiled. "I'm eighty-eight years old," she said.
Before I left, I mentioned again that someone would come to visit her from the church. "That's my church," she said, again. "I know. I remember you. I remember where you always sat."
Sometimes I think that my real job is having conversations: simple, small, ordinary conversations.
It keeps me humble to think it.