Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. – 1 Peter 5:2-3 (NIV)
Dear Fellow Shepherd,
Shepherding requires a whole lot of the opposite of social distancing (social proximiting?). To shepherd is to be part of the flock even as you guide it, to touch and to be touched.
Shepherding feels like the coolness of water on a baby’s sweet-smelling head at the baptismal font. The grasp of a withered hand, wedding ring dangling but still in place. The hug that comes with a whispered confidence, tickling an ear. Crouching down to look at a six-year-old’s Sunday school painting. The armhair-raising thrill of offering the bread and the cup to every single person. Holding hands to pray after a hard meeting. And singing. Just … singing.
I see you, fellow shepherd, and you are amazing. You’ve MacGyvered quarantine church with a combination of a gazillion emails, sheer force of will, and a smidgen of grace. You’ve spent a lot of time the past six months or so offering hope and encouragement and “it’s-only-temporary”s. Your pluck is one way to be what 1 Peter calls an example. But another way is this:
Another way is to acknowledge that you too are grieving the simple, sensual pleasures of our community life. Not so that your congregation will take care of you (even online, that’s still the job of the shepherd after all) but so that they – and you – can remember that we are all in the same muck together. And that, together, we will find our way through to the other side.
Christ, you are the shepherd of us all. Bless us. Amen.
Jennifer Garrison Brownell is pastor of Vancouver United Church of Christ. Her writing appears in the collection, The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms For the Struggle, available from The Pilgrim Press.