My name is Hugh, and I am a minister.
At least, that is what it says on the paperwork. Being Mennonite, the ‘m’ on minister on the paperwork is lowercase. Lest I slip into being proud, or some such as that.
I’m the pastor at Love Wins Ministries, here in Raleigh, NC. My congregation is a lot like yours, most likely. We have fears and dreams, marriages and divorces, babies born and stillborn, baptisms, funerals, weekly services, prayers, sermons, faith and doubt.
Oh yeah – and most of my congregation is experiencing homelessness. Because of this, we also experience more than our fair share of addiction, jail, overdoses, sex offenders, sexual assault, losing our children to the state, being victims of crime and being judged by people who do not know us, but only know their stereotype of what homelessness is.
I’ve been doing this work for 10 years now. I quickly learned that arguing about the efficacy of one atonement theory or another wasn’t helpful here. These people prayed like it was real. Like their life depended on it.
I came here because I thought I was going to save their souls. It turned out they ended up saving mine. And then we saved each other.
Because community works like that. We care for each other.
Because of who they are, and what their lives are like, some folks have called me the pastor of last resort. I laugh, but it’s true for several reasons.
One is, of course, what they mean when they say it. I am the pastor at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. The last stop.
But there is another sense that the phrase works, too.
When your mom committed suicide and your priest won’t do the service, I am the pastor you call. I am the guy you call to marry you and your second wife in a quiet service, because you are still ashamed the first marriage didn’t work out. I am the guy you call to come to the hospital when your wife is dying, but you don’t believe in God, but she does, and you don’t know what to do. I am the guy who will meet with you in the midst of your divorce and pray with you when you ask me to, even though you’re Buddhist.
I’m the guy you go to when you don’t know what you believe, or if you believe, but you want someone who will listen. Over the years, I have been the guy you came out to, the guy you told first you had HIV, the guy who fought for your mother’s rights at the nursing home, the guy who agreed to marry you when no one else would.
I have learned that people who live in houses are not immune to having nowhere else to go, and are also capable of doing horrible things and feeling immense shame. For some of those people, I am also the pastor of last resort.
I have no idea what it’s like to be a pastor in a steeple church. I don’t get invited to social events, but I do have the booking desk at the jail on speed dial. I have no idea what it means to have a building committee, or have the Boy Scouts meet in your basement or have a praise band. I do know what it’s like to feel like no one can hear you, and that no one cares, and that there is no place to go.
I don’t have a statement of faith for you, or even the promise I will be nice. What I will promise you is I will tell you the truth, and that I will not judge you, and that together, we can explore what it means to love each other, and to, along the way, find healing for ourselves and the world.