About 14 years ago, I had what I’m going to call, my first pastoral experience. I was still employed as a police chief and I was socializing with several other law enforcement leaders from around the state at our annual Chiefs Training Conference. It was early evening and a group of us were gathered at an establishment catching up with each other after the day’s activities. It was a good time for friends and colleagues from around the state to reconnect with people whose paths they don’t often cross. So like everyone else, I’d wander from group to group, saying hi and checking in. The conversations at these events are usually quite entertaining, light hearted and involved several people talking at once. But often people walk away, join other conversations and you find yourself in a one to one conversation. As this happened to me, I was talking with a chief I knew fairly well, but I don’t know if we had ever had a conversation just between the two of us. And as we talked I realized the conversation was… different… not the usual. What he was sharing was getting kind of personal. So, I just listened (since I really didn’t know what to say anyway). When the conversation ended, I wished him well, he said things will work out, and we continued to make our separate ways around the room. Shortly after that conversation, I was a bit stunned when I had another similar experience. A quite personal, one to one conversation with someone I didn’t know that well.
What I didn’t mention earlier is that the conference is also a time when the MN Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) conducted its annual business of electing board members and officers. Earlier that day I had been elected (or maybe appointed, I can’t really remember) Chaplain for the MCPA. I had been taking some courses off and on at Luther Sem for a few years, and the current Chaplain moved up to be a vice president of the association and the chaplain job was open. The board knew I was interested and next thing you know… I’m officially a chaplain. So logically the entertaining, light hearted, several people talking at once conversations at the establishment had an easy target… Chaplain Dan:-)
No need to go into detail on the comments I received, but it’s fair to say, not many entered the establishment without knowing they were now in the presence of a High Priest, Rabbi, Pope, Pastor, Reverend and whatever religious (or simply religious sounding) title anyone could come up with. So people all knew I was now their chaplain. Well, I don’t know if that made a difference in how folks were talking to me, or maybe in the way I was hearing people, but the conversations shook me a little bit. Even to the point where I felt I needed to talk to someone. So I stepped out and called a friend, a friend who happened to be a real pastor.
When I told him the story he didn’t pause for a moment before he said “Well they certainly weren’t talking to you. They were simply talking to God and you just happened to be in the way!” So through the past decade and a half, and literally thousands of personal conversations, I’ve made a pastoral career out of showing up and being in the way. Showing up where police, Fire and EMS professionals spend their time working, socializing, recreating, and way more often than you would expect… suffering silently. And I believe I’ve learned a bit about not being in the way of a God conversation, but being a way of a God conversation. And I discovered in that first pastoral experience, that listening without saying much was a pretty good way to do it…
(… and yes, I know, I know… not saying much has never been one of my strengths, but it’s still a pretty good practice:-)
With Care, Pastor Dan