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.