What Makes a Pastor? Or Linda Horne and the Great Mystery

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“I solemnly swear…” Her lip twitched, her eye twinkled.

“I solemnly swear…” we repeated, our right hands raised to the sky, our fingers making the shape of any good scout promise.

“That I…”

“That I…” We giggled.

We were standing around a table of pretzels and Kool-Aid. It was a summer Tuesday, one of the days we spent at the church children’s program.

“Will not spill this Kool-Aid on the new carpet…”

“Will not spill this Kool-Aid on the new carpet…”

Her eyes turned mischievous. We all knew the next line and we waited for it, craved it the way any kid craves a grown-up’s silliness.

“Or there will be blood on this carpet!”

We repeated her laughing. Blood! It was the 80s. Back when children’s ministers threatened blood.

At that time in our church, the female (always female) spiritual influence of children was called “director.” After all, she merely directed children’s programs. She planned events, scheduled teachers. That’s not my memory, though.  What I recall is her friendship, the warmth and story: her deep intuition toward the hearts of children and their longing for Jesus.

My parents always said that fifty children could be playing outside, pounding ground and roaring and Linda Horne could stand in the middle of the chaos, hold up her hand and we would see her, quiet ourselves, stand around her. There are some people God has made to be pastors. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. They listen. They stand around her lifted hand.

What makes a pastor?

Is it the value of the lives guided? Do lives stop needing “directing” and require “pastoring” when we reach the age of twelve? Eighteen? Is the phrase “pastor” simply one of education? Is it one of calling?

There’s a blurry line there in the theological shouting match of “Women in Ministry.” Because, of course, women have always ministered. Women have always led others, have always taught scripture. Women have always journeyed to the mission field. They have always prayed souls into the Kingdom.

The question is, if women are not to serve in ministry, where do we draw the line? Which recipients are less in need of the ordained: children? the disabled? the elderly? (And aren’t those the very “least of these” whom Jesus refers to as Himself?) What is the age or situation when a woman can no longer serve the one in need of ministry? Where does God no longer deem women fit for the task at hand?

* * *

What makes a pastor?

Is it a denomination’s laws for ordination? Or is it the moment when we stand before the throne of God like Isaiah, begging coal to sear our unclean lips? And once purified, we cry: “Here I am! Send me!

When I stood alone during the invitation in our old-style Baptist revival, my parents both serving—Dad in the choir, mom interpreting (as she always did) for the hearing impaired congregation, Jesus came heavy to my 7-year-old chest. How could I not be drawn from my pew? How could I not move forward toward the Spirit that was pulling me?

Of course, I saw the struggle in my mother’s eyes. Shirk her duty and join me at the altar? Her baby girl who’d walked the aisle alone? No doubt she looked back toward my father, also separated from me, robed with the choir. My memory, though, has little thought of my parents. Now, I imagine their faces, the entrance of Linda Horne, the reassuring pat she would have given my mom. Linda was probably 15 years her senior. My mom was 37 then, deep in the mother-trenches.

What I recall is this: Linda beside me at the altar, her left arm around my back, her hand resting on my left shoulder.

“Let’s talk,” she whispered in my ear, led me to the sanctuary’s foyer, behind double doors, a leather couch we squeaked into.

There she spoke secrets of Jesus in a language just for me: What it meant to love him, what it was to “be saved.” I prayed aloud and together we wrote on the back of the tract she held in her hand, cream-colored with thick, gold embossed letters. I scratched, Today I asked Jesus to be my Savior. She helped me spell “Savior.” Then we wrote the date: February 2, 1987.

Two years later, she left her abusive husband and her job as Children’s Director. She moved. I never saw her again. (This is what I wonder about her leaving: Did she experience grace? Did she find love in our church? Did she leave in shame or in courage?)

What makes a pastor?

Suffering for the sake of the sheep? Loving the weakest? Speaking words of life into the heart of a seven-year-old? Teaching children how to laugh and trust and believe in the goodness of friendship?

What makes a pastor?

Calling? The gift of telling the Truest Story, the one Linda Horne whispered alone to me, light cupped in her hand?

In the upside down paradigm of God’s Kingdom, where the last are first and the first are last, I can’t help but believe that the sort of minister who will sit in the most coveted seat at the Great Banquet, must be the abused, divorced woman who loved little ones well, with little reward and a quiet exit. A woman who held up her hands while we gathered around, a woman who knew how to tell the Great Story, who offered us a true magic, the glowing light held bright above, who called us close to look at Jesus and see what it meant to be loved.

What makes a pastor?

Isn’t a pastor always the one who shows you how to cup your hands and receive the orb of light? And when you, a little girl with skinny legs and big teeth, of no circumstance or special gifts, when you come to her and say you felt God’s Spirit tugging, a pastor says, I know and offers you the secret you knew was waiting there: the magic of faith, the light placed in your chest that night that swells in your seven-year-old bed until you feel your skin burst in the glory.

Don’t tell me to call that work Directing, friends. Only Ministry can hold such mystery.

And so it has always been.

 

Linking up today with the “One in Christ – A Week of Mutuality” synchroblog at RachelHeldEvans.com. Join the conversation about women in the Church this week. Link up and spread the word…

 

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One Good Phrase: Roo Ciambriello (Brush your shoulders off)
The Finding and the Being Found: Introducing my book
If King Wrote Us a Letter Today (a guest post from Grace Biskie)

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