A week in the life of a pastor

The aim of this memoir is to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what pastors do in a typical week.  It is intended for laity and aspiring clergy alike.

Every Monday morning begins with coffee klatsch at Sugar Bakers.  There is nothing better than having a dozen church friends welcome you at the start of a work week.  Since I am on a diet, their greeting is more satisfying than the smell of fresh-baked goods that I can no longer afford to eat.

We discuss weekly updates.  I am blessed and inspired to hear that all went well in yesterday’s worship service (I was out on vacation) in my absence.  One parishioner described the service as “excellent,” and I begin to doubt whether I will still have a job by the end of the week (!).

We address prayer concerns.  One spouse, a caregiver whose wife is terminally ill, explains that she–his “angel”–is eating better but still not feeling well. He assures us that she is staying positive, and that is very encouraging to all of us.

We also mention the impending surgery of another parishioner scheduled for later today.  It will be performed at a hospital nearly 1 hour north, so I leave the group early.  One hour later, as I search the surgical holding area in said hospital, a nurse informs me that the parishioner went back and is undergoing the surgery.

I realize that I am too late to pray with her, and a rush of regret and guilt fills my heart.  I know that family and friends surrounded her up to this point, but I realize that there is nothing like praying with a pastor before going to surgery.  I have missed that opportunity, and I pray that the parishioner will feel all our prayers from church in spite of my absence this morning.

Since the surgery will take four to five hours with recovery, I have no choice but to go back to Conyers.  One hour drive back home without one verbal prayer uttered, and my anxiety haunts me until I reach my church office.

Every Monday is devoted to AM visits, coffee group, and office work in the PM.   PM is a time for devotionals, reflection and planning.  I reflect on the past week, look over my calendar to see what I failed to do (so much to do, so little time!), and plan for the week ahead.  My biggest stress is choosing what order to accomplish my weekly goals in.  It’s an art for sure!

I also know that communication is just as important as visits, so I make sure to email the church either Monday or Tuesday morning with an update that lets people know of the weekly schedule and any prayer updates.  Church community has moved into cyberspace, interconnecting us and our prayers in a virtual “holy ground.”

By 2 PM, I wrap up any unfinished business and check Facebook before picking up my children from school and attending to my family.  When night falls and the children are asleep, I turn my attention to my weekly newspaper column for the Rockdale Citizen.

Upon employing me as pastor, my church was gracious enough to allow me a whole day to devote to my chaplaincy position at two senior living high-rises in downtown Decatur, a position I’ve held for nearly a decade.

This day, however, brings with it some ministry “interruptions” as I have to go into the church office in the AM before heading to Decatur.  There, I complete my church-wide email (unable to finish yesterday), and do one last proofread on my Rockdale article before submitting it to my editor.   I am not as disciplined as I hope, and I take a quick peek at the new Iron Man 3 trailer before departing.

From there, I go to a scheduled visit to a parishioner whose health has declined over the past two weeks.  I know I have to make it to Decatur for a 1 PM appointment, but I take time to sit with the parishioner and focus entirely on her for as long as needed.  In those few minutes of visitation, she is my whole world and, I suspect, God’s world too.   Nothing else matters but her, and I have the blessing and privilege to hold her hand yet again.  Each day is a precious gift.

Later that evening after my chaplaincy responsibilities have ended, I travel from Decatur on SR 78 to the same hospital I visited yesterday.  To my delight, I visit with my parishioner (finally!) in her room only to find her sitting up and in good spirits.  Despite having knee surgery, she was able to walk down the hall with minimal pain.  We celebrate and thank God for a successful surgery, smooth recovery, and modern medical technology.  I go home very happy!

Every Wednesday I have a two-hour window to design the weekend’s worship service and bulletin.  I do not start from scratch; rather, I have an outline of each service for the month ahead from a worship committee that chooses songs, special musicians, etc.

There is still much work to do on the bulletin: Update the prayer list and upcoming events, design any “special” inserts, and add additional worship elements to the regular order of worship.  This week, I must include recognition for folks who helped out on last weekend’s Trunk or Treat and a baptism for two boys who recently asked Jesus to be their Lord and Savior.

While I am updating the bulletin, an avalanche of thoughts come to mind, and I write down things that I need to do before I finish.  I email the deacons to make sure I get a list of what “deacons of the week” are serving this month, make phone calls to determine whether a certain someone is able to read scripture come Sunday, schedule a time for the special musician to come and practice during the week, and figure out what the sermon title will be based on the notes I have jotted down since Monday.

I usually reserve Wednesday afternoons for visitations or lunch appointments.  Today, a friend and fellow pastor (youth pastor actually) treats me to lunch, and we share stories about our ministries and families.  This is an important time for me–he is able to minister to me as much as I to him, and we find that our common journey of ministry provides encouragement and solace.

Once again, 2 PM strikes and I am off to pick up my children from school.  The ride there, however, is a stressful one as I think about tonight’s events.  Unlike most Wednesdays in which our church family meets for supper and Bible study, this evening is Halloween, and my family and I will host church folks and friends at our house instead.

I rush the children home and recruit their help to get ready for the event.  The plan is to grill hot dogs at 6 PM, roast smores shortly thereafter, swap ghost stories (an annual tradition–I still finish every Halloween storytelling time with a ghost story my cousin told me when I was six years old!), and go trick or treating.

Although this may not seem like a “spiritual” or Christian event, it is actually an opportunity to reach out to our community, provide food and fellowship, and introduce them to the ministry of what a recent Christian Century article referred to as “liturgy on the streets.”  God is to be found outside of the walls of the church just as much as He is found inside the walls of the church.

Thursday is a difficult day–always will be, I guess.  I am tired from the previous night’s ministry, often feel lonely in the empty office (our secretary comes around 11 AM or so), and try to figure out what needs to get done by week’s end.  This is when some things I have planned must get shifted to the next week!

I decide that on this day I have to “rally the church” so to speak.  I received word early in the morning that October’s budget is behind, and we will be using our savings to cover the shortfall.  It is convenient that I planned to send a “mid-week” email update to the church anyway about several prayer updates because now I can include a friendly, pastoral reminder that we need to “catch up the tithe” for anyone who missed giving to the Lord last month.

Encouraging people to give their tithe is awkward, but I remember that it is a blessing to (a) give our resources to God for effective ministry since here at Trinity it certainly isn’t squandered(!), and (b) have people with fixed incomes that make our monthly income predictable and budget-friendly.  I know that dipping into our savings is an uncomfortable position to be in, but I also know from almost three years of pastoral experience that God always provides for our needs.

While I am emailing, journaling, and reading my Bible for morning devotions, I am greeted by our special musician who will practice for Sunday.  He and I talk about our families as we walk to the sanctuary and get the music rolling.

He sings “He is Here,” and the Spirit begins to move.  I fidget at the sound booth not because I want to leave or return to my work, but because I realize that this is why I’m a pastor in the first place: Because God is “here” and He has called me to this work regardless of all the driving, decisions, and office work that needs to be done.

I am humbled, and the musician, now half-way through the song, begins to tear up.  He is moved, and I am moved, and we have just experienced one of the core values listed on Trinity’s website:  “We value divine interactions that nurture spiritual growth.”  After the song, we depart and go about the rest of our day.

I intended to make some visits today, but I realize that I have been putting off some neglected board member work for a local non-profit.  I am treasurer, and as such have certain monthly responsibilities that are quite pertinent to my position.  I turn my attention to that work, understanding full well that a pastor should–and must–participate in his or her community in some official capacity, modeling what it means to be on mission “beyond the walls of the church” (another explicit Trinity core value).

Afterwards I spend time getting ready for the baptism, updating our church website and Facebook page, and checking last-minute emails from the deacons.  I also take time to make last-minute changes to the bulletin and print the music for our accompanist for Sunday.

I realize at the end of the day that I have also accomplished a thousand little tasks in between the big ones.  Some of it is innocuous as clearing the clutter on my desk, and some of it relates to interactions with some dudes who’ve spent most of the day installing new security equipment at the church.

2 PM chimes again, and I drive to get the children.  I always get to their school about 10 minutes early so I have time to read in the car.  I’ve been reading a book about a couple who attended Trinity.  The husband, deceased since 2004, was blind since childhood and regained sight through the help of doctors after 40 years.  His story was so powerful and inspiring, MGM made a movie based on his “journey” to sight, staring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino.

Fridays are days that I spend entirely in the office (…usually…) in order to write my sermon, prepare for Sunday worship, and read/study.  On this day, however, I am whisked away to a brunch with a parishioner who has become a spiritual friend–an amnchara according to the ancient Celts.  We discuss church, family, and spiritual things in general. But these discussions serve more than small-talk; they become the very soil from whence inspiration and spiritual insight helps shape Sunday’s sermon.  There are a few things in our time together that will sure come out in my sermon:  The reality of spiritual warfare and its “draining” affect on all of us; the need for compassion and kindness as we live lives that aren’t our own, but God’s; the fact that all of us need to slow down and take in the sun and God’s refreshing light.

It is a wonderful time together, and who knew that part of “writing” my sermon would take place over a chicken melt and fried okra?

From there, I head to the local Christian bookstore to buy gifts for our two baptism candidates.  Back at church, I put all of the thoughts and notes related to my sermon that I’ve been collecting all week into manuscript form.  I fill the baptismal, set my phone to go off tomorrow to remind me to come back to church to turn the heater on, and put together the worship slides for service.  The week is almost over, and at 2 PM I will pick up my children to enjoy the time of the week–Friday night–that I have learned to call “Sabbath.”

Even before I became senior pastor of Trinity, I like to arrive at church before anyone else.  I’m not sure why; perhaps its because I get to whisk through the church, put on the lights and heat, and make sure there’s enough toilet paper in the restrooms before anyone arrives.  I guess it’s a part of my spiritual gift of hospitality: I want people to feel like they are coming back “home” when they come to church.  After all, they are coming home in a sense to God, who longs to be with them for this short hour in the week in this unique setting.

I also take time to prep the sound, insure that the overhead projector is working, and make sure I am “studied up” for Sunday School.

When Sunday school and, later, church begins, I make sure I shake everyone’s hand.  This has been a habit of mine from the beginning.  It’s not that I have to get affirmation or some sense of ego filled here; I simply feel that everyone needs to know that they are welcome and that despite whatever happened that week, they have much to celebrate because they are faithful–yet again–simply by just showing up.

Maybe I shake hands because I’m searching for something less grandiose–that sparkle in each person’s eye that tells me just how beloved each person is to God.

10:30 AM hits, a child goes forward to light the acolyte candles, the piano chimes in, I give the welcome, and the rest I leave up to God knowing full-well that I probably should have left it up to God six days ago.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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