I have been given a very special gift.
You see, there’s a truth about being a pastor that not many people realize: it’s hard to make friends. The people you spend most of the time with, those folks in your congregation, often do friend activities with you — coffee, dinner, movies, cards, hikes — but for as warm and connected as those times are, you are still their pastor. There will always be a part of the relationship that observes boundaries, that is kept reserved for when they need a pastor, not a friend.
When you go to social events or community gatherings to meet people outside the congregation, things spark along just fine until someone asks what you do; when you say “I’m a pastor,” it gets very quiet. Some polite small talk is made until people can edge away from you, worried that something wrong or blue or naughty will slip out and offend the tender sensibilities of all that is holy. That, or they are afraid they’ll be cornered or brow-beaten or guilted into attending church on Sunday.
Yes, I read the Bible. I also read Harry Potter, Maeve Binchy, Jasper Fforde mysteries, the Hunger Games, Bill Bryson and Jane Austen. I thought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a hoot. Yes, I enjoy listening to St. Olaf’s choir belting out A Mighty Fortress is our God, but I also appreciate all things Motown, Weird Al and Broadway. I love Kodo and Blue Man Group and the soundtracks to The Bourne Identity and Battlestar Gallactica. Yes, Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston is one of my favorite movies of all time. So is African Queen and Babe and Revenge of the Nerds and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and anything MST3K.
Even so, many people just don’t take a chance on being friends with a pastor. And so I have been given a very special gift of late, that of a friend. Both of us adrift at a reception, we discovered, of all things, that we attended the same junior high school in Maryland, and even had a crush on the same boy! With such obvious good and similar tastes, we connected, and over many cups of coffee, our friendship has grown. It has been so much delight to share, to giggle, to work together and play together.
Now, in the way of all things Alaska, my friend is moving. The good news is Alaskans know how to nurture and sustain long-distance friendships. The bad news is it is still a long-distance friendship. I will miss my friend, even as I give thanks for all the joy and laughter we have shared together, and all that we will continue to share together.
There are things we all need for our lives to be full and rich, whether we are students, gardeners, bus drivers, office workers, or even pastors. We need food, shelter and water. We need work that engages us. We need to care, and be cared for. And we need friends. Shalom, Malkah. Thank you for being my friend.
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” wrote A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh.
• Reverend Sue Bahleda is pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Find out more at www.rlcjuneau.com.