Pastor’s Piece: The Pastoral Life
I’ve been asked if this article would be my “swan song,” and I suppose it is. I’d like to shape it as a commendation of the pastoral life, a life both demanding and privileged, a life I have found to be worth commending!
My own calling to this life lay dormant until I was a senior in college. It surfaced during winter quarter, while I was student teaching at Bismarck High School. I spied a Luther Seminary catalog at the public library, paged through it and was smitten. Within the span of a few minutes I knew I should attend seminary and become a pastor. I remain thoroughly grateful for that calling.
A seminary education itself can be a great gift. I found Luther Seminary to be a mutually supportive community and a place of excellence in teaching and learning. It would not be an exaggeration to say I became much more fully alive during my years of seminary as did many of my peers.
Beyond seminary, the life of parish ministry can and should be seen as an adventurous life. The diversity of ministry settings is staggering! My first call was to a small congregation in suburban Chicago, where I had the brief, memorable opportunity to work half time with the community of Indochinese refugees who had settled in an apartment complex down the street. A grant from the larger church supported that part of my work. I assisted and advocated for this community of people and marveled at their resilience and industry.
I fondly remember walking through their large apartment complex, hearing greetings of “Hello, pastor!” called out time and again. Years later, I stood in front of the memorial stupa in the “killing fields” outside Phnom Penh, in the land from which some of those refugees had fled. That was a holy moment.
My second calling was to northeastern Montana, where Rebecca, our small boys and I lived in a rambling old parsonage next to a gracefully steepled church right out on the prairie. I also served a sister church a mere 8 miles away, which had a foundation made from the fieldstones gathered from the surrounding countryside. There I gained an indelible appreciation for the interplay between the seasons of nature, the seasons of the church year, and the parables of Jesus. I got to know all my parishioners and virtually all the people in the community, and even the relatives of my parishioners who would periodically visit! It was a community who loved to gather, worship, sing, dance and dine, and I was “in my element” there.
My third calling was to a Bismarck congregation of 2,000 members. With the help of a dozen able staff-persons, I served as the senior pastor of that congregation for a decade. I used to joke I felt like the mayor of a town! The irony of that calling is I had never envisioned being a senior pastor in such a large church. But I served there long enough to share many milestones with my congregants, and I grew to love them no less than the people of my smaller congregations. I taught, visited, married and buried hundreds of people, and preached innumerable sermons. Still, I received more than I gave.
You know something about my fourth calling! I grieve that illness has encroached upon it after a little more than three years. Still, three years is not nothing! I’ve so much appreciated the vital, interactive life of worship at Ascension. I’ve been humbled by the care and affection I’ve received during the course of my journey with cancer thus far. It’s been a gift to live on the receiving end of much prayerful concern even if I’d prefer the gift of wellness. It’s also been a gift to live along the “Front Range,” well-situated between metropolitan Denver and the Medicine Bow.
As I reflect upon my various ministry settings, I trust I’ve brought some beneficial things to the table, but I’ve learned the legacies we attribute to ourselves are almost always overshadowed by smaller traits and gestures. There’s Gospel in this; Jesus blessed little children and extolled the significance of giving a cup of water to a thirsty soul.
Permit me to recall two largely invisible occasions. I once received a card from a soft-spoken single mom in which she explained she and her young daughter had started coming to my church during a time of great personal difficulty, and she had found my sermons to be helpful to them. And I once stood at the bedside of a sharp-minded old professor who was dying. He and his wife had been members of my church a short time, but we’d somehow bonded. After praying with him, I simply sat with him, and he said “It’s a great comfort.” Those instances embody what is best and most commendable about the pastoral life. They are “the pearl of great price.”
Every year, I tell my confirmation parent-student class that any one of them, boy or girl, man or woman, student, parent or grandparent could be called to be a pastor, and that more people should be open to such a calling. The pastoral life is a life both demanding and privileged. It is a good life, and I commend it. In fact, I recommend it!
Pastor Wes Aardahl
Worship with the Birds & the Bees
Sunday, July 7, we have invited the people of St. Paul’s to again join us at 10 a.m. for an outdoor worship service at Hynd’s Lodge Amphitheater. Coffee and rolls will be provided. Directions: Take Happy Jack Road toward Laramie, past the main entrance to Curt Gowdy State Park; turn right on Hynds Lodge Road and right again on Amphitheater Road. What a great opportunity to enjoy that beautiful spot together!
Art Gallery to celebrate being at peace
Looking ahead to July, please bring photos of yourself and/or members of your immediate family looking peaceful. This will be a reminder of what a good witness it is to simply be at peace in the midst of a restless culture.
Men’s Breakfast to meet at Terry Bison Ranch
The weekly men’s breakfast scheduled for June 26 will be meeting at the Terry Bison Ranch at 6:30 a.m. Please bring your wives to this weeks breakfast. The breakfast meeting location will return to the Epic Egg on July 3rd at 6:30 a.m.
WELCA study to focus on book of Esther
Women of the ELCA (WELCA) will begin a new three-part study from the Gather magazine for summer based on the book of Esther, titled “For just such a time as this” by Kay Ward. The group will meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 18, and Tuesday, July 16, in the upper fellowship hall. For information, contact Shirley Toppenberg at 634-4946.
Art Gallery to celebrate spring, military
The Art Galley needs photos, paintings and artwork to celebrate spring’s arrival. Also, service members are asked to place a pin (black for men, clear for women) in a “where did you serve our country” world map and, if you desire, to bring a picture of yourself in uniform. Drop off these items at the church office.
Take ‘Action’ for greater good
Any member of Thrivent is eligible to create a Thrivent Action Team to bring people together to make positive changes in the community using $250 from Thrivent as seed money. Projects can include one-time fund-raisers, service projects for the church or community or educational events that can be completed within 120 days. Once a project is approved, a Thrivent Action Kit will be mailed that includes a promotional pennant banner; thank you cards, name tags and stickers; and Thrivent Action Team T-shirts.