I was recently asked to pray before the meal at my niece’s wedding. Afterwards one of my sons told me that I’d “prayed like a pastor.” It bugged me. Even when he explained that I’d said pastor kind of things and not things you’d expect from an uncle in that setting, it still bugged me. It shouldn’t have. I doubt my niece made any distinction when she asked me to pray at her wedding. Besides, my son could not have known that the words, ‘pray like a pastor,’ tapped into some of my old (and apparently not so deeply buried) insecurities.
When I was in college I knew some students who were—in my immature opinion, at least—parodies of certain expectations of pastors. One was old before his time. He walked with a demeanor that was meant to project a pastoral gravitas. His hands seemed perpetually poised to rise in spontaneous benediction. The other greeted everyone with the glad handed exuberance of a used car salesman meeting a mark. I didn’t want to be either of those guys. Over time I’ve come to understand that there are other pastoral personae and that, like any other calling, the pastoral role comes with some expectations. A person needs a healthy understanding of those expectations in order to avoid either being subsumed by them or creating unnecessary anxiety by foolishly rebelling against them. Even so, it still bugged me when my son said I’d prayed like a pastor.
After I was ordained to the ministry I noticed that people (outside of my family) no longer used my name. I was called “pastor,” or “reverend”, or sometimes even “domine,” one of the few Dutch words that was still known in that community. Sometimes the title was combined with my name, but more often the title alone was used when someone greeted me. I feared that something of my person was being lost along with my name. I remembered a mentor who seemed so much a pastor that I’d wondered whether his personality had been swallowed up by his calling. As I got to know him better, however, I came to see that he wasn’t playing a role. He was genuine through and through. Though I am still not him, I hope the same might be said of me when I do pray like a pastor.