Monday, January 17, 2011


When reading my seminary’s alumni magazine, where people can send in updates about what they’re doing now, I noticed wide diversity in the prepositions pastors use to describe their calls. Thinking about these little two- and three- letter words might seem nit-picky, but they have major implications for how we think about the relationship between pastor and people. Am I pastor at, to, with, or from Amazing Grace, or all of these? I don’t think that there is necessarily a wrong answer, but it’s worth thinking about.

At: This is what I probably use most often in everyday speech, but boggles my theological sensibilities. I frequently introduce myself, “I am Paul Bailie, pastor at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.” This seems to be the most natural to me, but it also presents an ecclesiology that is somewhat limited. “At” makes the church seem like a location or a place, when as Lutherans we understand the Church to be more than a building or an address, but the assembly of the saints. This goes along with my quixotic practice of avoiding the word “church” when talking about an individual congregation. The Church is the Body of Christ across time and space—something hard to pinpoint in a specific locus.

To: “To” seems a bit patronizing to me, like the pastor has all the answers and the people don’t. A large congregation I know describes one of their pastors as “pastor to the international community.” It’s like the immigrants need to be ministered to, instead of being active co-participants in the life of the ministry. Grammatically, I guess it’s ok, but it feels more condescending than I would like.

With: Maybe “with” seems more like the partnership that I’d aim for. I’m pastor with Amazing Grace. It sounds clumsy when you say it, but implies that the people of the congregation are ministers along with me. We are laborers in the vineyard together.

From: I don’t use “from” enough, as in “I am pastor from Amazing Grace.” This implies that I’m functioning as a representative of the congregation, doing ministry in the community. Our Lutheran church structure seems like it encourages the pastor to serve as a big deal in their own dukedom or bailiwick, instead of being an ambassador to the world.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Talking about sex

When I was in sixth grade, while we were standing in line at the drug store, waiting for a prescription to be filled, my dad nervously pulled me aside and pointed at a display rack of little square boxes. Standing there in his green surplus-store parka and Elmer Fudd-style hat with ear flaps, he quietly instructed, in an avuncular whisper, "Son, these are prophylactic devices, used to prevent conception during sexual intercourse. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, Dad," I said matter-of-factly, "They're condoms."

Sometimes parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about sex. For the last couple years, Amazing Grace has tried to be a place for our middle schoolers to learn about sexuality in a frank and honest, yet loving and Christian, atmosphere. A wonderful woman in the congregation with a social work background and a few decades experience working with young people in all sorts of settings begins a ten-week series with our confirmation youth this Sunday. She uses Big Decisions, an abstinence-plus curriculum that many Texas school districts use, as well as Free in Christ to Care for the Neighbor: Lutheran Youth Talk about Human Sexuality, an ELCA resource that invites youth into having conversations about issues of sexuality.

When I first interviewed at Amazing Grace, this teacher was worried that I would try to squelch this class. On the contrary, I think that this is a very good thing. I am thankful that we have a skilled and loving teacher who is willing to equip our youth to live in our diverse and often difficult world, always reminding them that they are beloved Children of God.

A few years ago at a workshop for religious and medical professionals on HIV/AIDS, I heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright say that the reason church folk are so uncomfortable talking about homosexuality is that they are uncomfortable talking about sexuality of any sort. He is absolutely right. Let's start talking.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Funeral planning

It might sound a bit morbid, but one of my favorite parts of being a pastor is officiating at funerals. It is a sad time, but funerals are among the times the Church is best the Church. We proclaim Christ crucified and risen. Now is the time we comfort each other in our grief, to mourn, to sing, to pray, to hope. There are hugs and food, and tears and prayers. We bring casseroles and condolences. We encounter the God who loves our loved one and who loves us.

Over two years ago, Amazing Grace had a series of adult forums about death and dying. A hospice chaplain, a geriatric physician, and I led discussion about end-of-life issues. I focused on the liturgical aspects of a funeral. From that discussion arose a desire to have some sort of worksheet that people could fill out now to think about what their funeral should be like, rather than waiting until their family members are sitting in some mortuary office wondering, “What was Grandma’s favorite hymn?” or “Where was that passage from Habakkuk that always gave Uncle Jack hope?” After two years of procrastination, I have finally put it together. It has been posted online (

As Christian people, we trust in God’s promises of resurrection hope. Planning a funeral is a chance to reflect on how your life proclaims what God is doing.