Face to face is a loaded expression. It could be followed by details of a confrontation, or of deep intimacy, or a great deal in between those two. I was considering how many people I've been privileged to be face to face with in a way that never would happen if not for being a pastor. I have been face to face in counseling sessions, in worship, in weddings, in baptisms, in moments of heartache and grief, in moments of truth, in moments of confrontation, and moments of earnest hope. I cannot begin to calculate the number of people I have been face to face with in ritual events, such as healing services or Ash Wednesday services or communion by intinction or in prayer at the side of their hospital bed. Though I have fallen far short, I have always tried to say the person's name and make eye contact. In a flash, in a micro-second, in a timeless moment, I have often felt a deep and mysterious connection--not just between myself and the other person, but also of another who brings us together. It's as if, without expertise or planning, we are taken to a place beyond our capacity to discover, and in that place the heart is laid bare. None of the garbage of our lives, for which we are ashamed and remain guarded, is there. It's not that it is undisclosed, it's more as if it simply doesn't exist.
It is a holy moment that occurs in spite of us. It is in such moments that I have looked into the eyes of people whom I know do not like me, who have been critical of me, who have hurt me, and I am forgiven of all the feelings I have had because of my own fears and insecurities and spiritual immaturity. It's a humbling experience to not feel the razor sharp indignation toward the other, but to experience the power of forgiveness in the most indescribable and incomprehensible way.
It is in such moments that I realize that being a pastor isn't mostly about having answers or being theologically astute or even being a leader. Instead it is about being a child who is loved and given the privilege of letting other children know they are loved too, but not in any way that we can earn or even understand. Rather, it is a love that frees us to explore the meaning of love, even in our messy, broken-down ways.
© 2016 Stephen Carl