Pr. Jeffrey Clements, assistant to Bishop Wollersheim
This is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.
Mark 10:45, The Message
I was in my first call as a young pastor. As we were finishing a noontime meal in the church basement, I did something that felt very natural to me. I got up, went to the kitchen, filled a thermal coffee carafe and began to make the rounds of the room offering to refill coffee cups. I had not gotten very far before one of the women at the table said, “Oh, Pastor, let me do that.” I countered, “No, I don’t mind.” It was a true statement. I didn’t mind. In fact, I really enjoy it. I know of no better way to greet almost everyone at an event than by carrying around a coffee pot.
The next comment, however, caught me off-guard. Objecting to my pouring coffee, another woman said, “The pastor doesn’t serve!”
The pastor doesn’t serve! Here I thought I was trying to live a life of service. We all got a good chuckle out of how silly the statement sounded.
Of course, a pastor does serve. As a parish pastor, I have served alongside parishioners in lots of way. But, there is an extra challenge for pastors because our service to and with the congregation often looks like part of the “job.” So, many pastors I know also seek ways to serve outside of the congregation. I used to volunteer time at the local elementary school and with the Boy Scouts. These efforts never looked like I was doing them just because I was the pastor. (I could have been legitimately accused of doing these for fun.)
But, it isn’t just the pastor who has been called to serve. We are all called by God to a life of service. We are to serve God and serve our neighbor. In recent years, our church has placed a greater emphasis on the faith practice of serving. We have been encouraged to connect our faith with our daily lives in new and intentional ways. A day of service has become an integral part of our ELCA Youth Gatherings. I have seen firsthand how this component of the gathering changes the lives of our young people. The stories our youth told after returning from the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit often focused on the people they had met. As one group cleared debris from an alley, a neighbor came out to work alongside of them. Another neighbor offered cold water on a hot day. Detroiters were grateful for the work that was done and our youth got their hands dirty in service to God and neighbor.
For the past three years, many of our congregations, both in our synod and churchwide, have engaged in a day of service under the “God’s work. Our hands.” banner. Relationships are being formed and strengthened within congregations as new relationships are being built between congregations and the communities they seek to serve. Last September, Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries engaged a number of our congregations in an all-day food packing event in the center court of Cherry Vale Mall. As meals were packaged for Tanzania, a gold-shirted witness was made to the community.
I really appreciate the church’s emphasis on all of the faith practices: pray, study, worship, invite, encourage, serve, give. They are all important as we strive to become better disciples. But, I believe if the church is to make a positive and lasting impact in the world today, service must be prominent. We used to sing “They’ll know we are Christians by our love….” Today, the world will know we are Christians by our love through our service to our God and to our neighbor.