One of the things, among a lot of things, that is unique to the church is that you have someone that you can go to, sometimes, if necessary, at odd hours, who will pay attention to you and do what he can to support you. That of course being your pastor. Oh sure, you could call the police, the York Police are a great group of officers for whom I am privileged to serve as a chaplain. But, they have other more pressing concerns, they can’t take much time with you. As hard as you can imagine, there is no other professional who will talk to you, even go to see you, if necessary, then your clergyman, pastor.
There’s an added bonus, for most clergy, certainly for Lutheran clergy, you are covered under what is called “The Seal of the Confessional”. I cannot tell anyone what you said to me, I really can’t even tell them that I spoke to you. Now according to Christian Counseling Today, science has shown the profound benefit of what clergy can do to serve. “…relationships have profound neurobiological properties. For example, the telling of one’s life story and experience of being empathically understood produces a calming effect in the limbic system – the brains locus of emotion – similar to the effects of anti-anxiety drugs like Ativan or Xanax.” (Gary Sibcy, Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins Christian Counseling Today p 16 vol 20 No 3)
Relationship is a huge element of what being part of a church community is about, by being there for someone else and serving them, you really are helping yourself as well. I think we all know intuitively that relationships are very important and often neglected. I have a few friends, from school, Coast Guard, seminary, business, not a lot, but these are guys that I can talk to, who like talking to me and I like talking to them. I don’t talk to them often, which I probably should do more, and there is no doubt in my mind, that after I get off the phone with them to just talk, my perspective is vastly different. But there are things that I wouldn’t even discuss with these guys, some I’ve known since my teens and who probably know more than I imagine they do.
Most people have this idea that talking to a clergyman is sort of like being grilled. I don’t know exactly, other then of course the much condemned, condemnation. I’m sure people are thinking that I would be sitting in judgment over them. I really feel that is selling clergy short, at least for me. I’ve made this comment to people many times in the vast span of my whole three years as an ordained pastor; “I spent 20 years working in corporations, 29 years in the Coast Guard which is military and also a Law Enforcement organization, many years in local politics, my wife and I lived in the same large city most of our lives, raised our children there, I seriously doubt that anything someone is going to tell me is going to make me recoil in horror. I have been known to flinch a time or two, but even that is hardly noticeable to the untrained eye. I’m not trying to be glib or minimize your concerns, what I am saying is that in talking to a pastor you’re talking to someone who has lived a life, seen a lot, heard a lot, knows the human condition. Isn’t interested in jumping on you, but in joining you as a fellow sinner, as Dr Luther said as one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.
I think we know that when we open up it is helpful and when you have someone whose mission is dedicated to your welfare, not just in the here and now but for eternity and does so under a seal that is inviolable, the benefit reaches down to your soul. Dr Luther refers to pastors as seelsorge a soul doctor/healer. Your pastor’s responsibility is to help you through the issues of life in order to not just help you cope in this world, but to give healing and relief to your soul.
Frankly, as your pastor, I would very much like to hear your life story and according to the scientific research, this has a significant positive effect on your emotional state, as good as some powerful drugs and it helps me to better understand how to serve you as your pastor.
Just for the record, this is not some weirdo way for me to get some thrill hearing about your issues. If anything I would caution someone to judge how deep they want to go. The relationship between pastor and parishioner should be allowed to grow and develop. There has to be a level of comfort, so no, I’m not encouraging anyone to begin by divulge their deepest darkest fears, secrets, desires, unless of course you have to. But start with the joys, the disappointments, dreams and yea fears, how you see God and how He is moving your life. But build a level of comfort, just like any relationship give it time and let it grow. But puhlease believe me when I tell you, I am not looking for you to be uncomfortable and feel that this is some kind of inquisition. As the research indicates there is a positive and powerful effect of just sharing your life history, to the level you are comfortable. You help your pastor get to know you better and help him to get an idea of what kind of discipling would benefit you.
The church is unique, obviously being the Body of Christ, being the Body that gives you the sacraments, the preached/taught Word, the Keys to heaven and hell, but it’s where you will find someone who is well trained and experienced, interested in your spiritual well-being and a confidant, someone who will keep your trust and wants to grow with you as a brother in Christ. I’m not interested in criticizing and condemning, but in overcoming the trials in life, learning what God is leading you to learn in those trials and for all of us to be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, better in our vocation and growing as a child of God and as a part of the New Jerusalem in the resurrection.