As a CRC minister serving four congregations over forty years, I poured my heart and soul into many sermons. I earned a doctorate in rabbinic story telling to improve my communicating of the Gospel. I loved preaching, I loved my children’s sermons, I loved Sundays.
At the end of each pastorate, we experienced the joy and the tears of our farewells. I can still remember those final hugs, handshakes, and words of thanks. Some thanked me for my sermons, but more than any other, the words of thanks were, “Thanks for calling me on my birthday.” I poured so much energy into those hundreds (actually a few thousand) sermons, and so I was amazed to hear that the memorable touch of ministry was the few phone calls I made most days. Those short conversations, apparently, communicated grace better than my longer sermons. I learned at each farewell that the pastoral touch was what probably communicated the Gospel best for me.
So in the three classes where I have served as a regional pastor, I soon gathered a birthday calendar with the birth dates of our pastors and their spouses. Sometimes the conversation is brief. When there is no answer, I leave a voice mail or follow up with a text message. Other times we connect and have a short reflective conversation. Each year our relationship deepens just a little so that over time the regional pastor relationship becomes quite meaningful. These birthday calls create a context in which, when conflict, disappointment, or tragedy occur, it is much easier for he/she to pick up the phone and call to talk.
I still attempt to make an annual visit to each pastor, or pastoral couple in person. But, when my position as regional pastor ends and it comes time to say goodbye, I hear it again, “Thanks for calling me on my birthday.”