For five years I had the privilege of being a rural pastor. For five years I had the gift of serving Christ in places where I knew most all the names and most of the stories of the people God had entrusted in my care.
I’ve been in places where decisions aren’t made through the cold anonymity of email or by the faceless detachment of a phone call, but in the warm honesty of face to face encounter, out of the deep soil of shared experience.
I’ve been in places where the rhythm of relationship means something: so as a rural pastor I’ve had the time to hold the hand of a cancer-riddled fiddler player as he prepared for the music of heaven, to stand with my hands in my pockets beside a farmer as he talked about his potatoes, to listen to a mountain woman describe the process of making handmade baskets and of canning bear meat, to sit with a boy scout over an open Bible trying to understand together what it means that Jesus loves us both.
I’ve been in places where my position as pastor in the community meant I got to know the fire fighters, the school principal, and the police officers, which doesn’t only come in handy when you’re pulled over for speeding, but also allows you to be used by God’s Spirit to impact a community in a deeper way than you ever would have dreamed.
And because rural places don’t only grow sowbeans and corn but also genuine characters, I have also met a moonshiner named Popcorn, conversed with a man who claimed he was an alien and had seen Jesus on another planet (he said he was a beautiful man, by the way), and I have shared pizza with a peacewalker named Utopia. One Sunday, after church, I sat down with a man named Stoney who had alcohol on his breath to exegete the finer points of Solomon’s judgment in the case of the two women who each claimed the one baby as their own: trying to determine how that story applied Stoney’s situation where his stud horse had gotten loose and impregnated his neighbor’s mare, and now they weren’t sure who the foal belonged to.
We discussed the feasibility of pony support payments.
I have been in a place where people know how to laugh deeply, from the belly, and love deeply, from the heart. I have been a rural pastor.
Thanks be to God.