Making Friends out of Strangers

It has been a month since John and I arrived at our new churches. Essentially we have about two hundred strangers to get to know between the two of us. Each of us have different ways that we learn names and ways that we start conversations. Both us know that John learns names faster than I do. I suppose that is one good reason for his congregation to be bigger.

How do strangers become friends?

First names have to be exchanged. But I have found that many times names are not as important as faces, and true words. I have had many times when I did not know someone’s name, but I learned their face, and learned something about them that spoke to me. Unfortunately, the connection that I can have with someone is not as important sometimes to them as me knowing their name. So I try to learn names.

After names, or connections, comes a time when we share something. Worship is something that we all share, but I don’t think that is enough for most people. Since worship is something that many of them have been going to, and possibly not participating in, we see our attendance as sufficient to our membership. I know that I have done this more than once. When I come to a worship for the first time, I can be evaluating and judging and counting and noticing all the little things that do not flow or meld. I can fall into a perfectionist trap, and get lost in where our people stand, rather than how we are approaching the throne of grace.

Oh, yes… Friends.

I always struggle with becoming friends with church members. How much information should a parishioner know about the pastor? What will be used for the health of the relationship, what will be used against me, how will a sign of my weakness inhibit my leadership or authority?

What does it mean to be a friend to a parishioner?

It is a volatile subject at best.

But if as a pastor I spend my entire ministry worrying about letting people in too much, how will I ever be able to minister? I will burn out and I will burn out my other relationships, if I depend too heavily on just a couple of individuals.

So I must find friends. Rather, I must allow myself to be open to friendships. And I can seek them out in other places, like my Ultimate League.

As we become part of a group, we are open to hearing more and learning more and being more for others. What does a friend do, anyway?

No, that’s the wrong question. Friends are not made for a purpose.

Friends are.

Friends let you know what is going on. Friends let you be quiet. Friends pull you out of a shell.

But those are not reasons to have friends. You could get a personal coach to do those things. A teacher and a director and nothing-personal-thank-you-very-much.

Friends exist.

Friends forget what time it is and get lost in tangents and let you tell them things that they have heard seven times before, because you love to tell the story. And they like to hear it.

Friends stick around and love you when you make mistakes. When the whole world is tumbling down around your ears, they let you stand in an embrace without explanation.

Friends are.

The church is.

The Church can become this, where people stand up for each other, and stand with each other. It is not about controlling anything, but about being part of a worshipping body. We worship because we cannot do anything but worship.

And that is why I show up on Sundays.

It’s why I’ll get up tomorrow.

To be a better friend.


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