From Exile to Hope: Dear Pastor

From Exile to Hope: Dear Pastor

June 29, 2023

Dear Pastor

By: Rev. Cindy Hickman

Dear Pastor,

I was once a pastor, but now I am retired (I am not a fan of that word. Let me know if you have a better synonym). After years of leading worship, I now participate in worship as part of the flock. I have made some observations. Think of me as a secret shopper. I have some requests and suggestions. This is not a To Do list. I am sure you already have one of those. These are just things to consider as you step up to lead worship on Sunday.

Look at us.  Sometime early in the worship service, maybe during the first song or before worship starts, pause, and look at us. Scan the room and linger on each face. It’s a miracle that people come to church. Really—a miracle that 2000 years after Christ emerged from the tomb, we still gather for our own weekly dose of resurrection. You and the organist are the only ones in the room being paid.

Everyone else comes voluntarily. We’ve come because we believe there is some holy something here that connects us to God and one another. We’ve come because sitting next to one another is a comfort. We’ve come because singing together is a way to empty our lungs of toxic stuff that has built up there. We’ve come for the beauty of it all and God uses beauty to heal us. We’ve come because worship, a communal act of gratitude, resets our bearings. See us, each of us. Breathe in this holy miracle as worship begins.

Joy. I know creating a worship service can too easily become a check list. Call to Worship. Check. Opening hymn. Check. Scripture. Check. Liturgist. Check. It can feel like a structured performance that all depends on you, Dear Pastor. Be careful with that. Too much structure and the Holy Spirit can’t find any space to dance. Too much structure can feed your ego. Structure rather than worship can become the goal. Rather than structure, center worship on joy. We have been created for God’s joy. We who sit in the pews have brought in all that worries us and you can be 100% certain that we are each worried about something. The world can be cruel and demanding. We’ve seen violence and we have experienced loss. Counter our anxiety and yours with joy. Spontaneous laughter. Let us for a few moments be children again, Children of God in need of a loving parent. 

Your sermon. Lead us through the scripture. It is ok if you have more questions than answers. Let us hang out with you and Jesus and see where that takes us. Be careful with illustrations from movies we have never seen. You don’t have to end with a neat tidy “so just be happy” ending. We can spot that kind of phoniness. Someone said we would rather see a sermon than hear one. That’s true. Show us a way of life formed by grace, even if we aren’t there now. Dream with us about a world where love prevails.  

Send us and trust us. When worship is over, send us into the world to live what we have experienced here. I know the church has activities all week long that we need to support but trust us that even though we don’t drop off a salad for the luncheon, we will live our faith in our way in the places we frequent. Trust us that we will share grace with the guy at work who is going through a divorce or the children in our neighborhood who never seem to have anyone looking after them after school. Trust in the little unseen ministries we carry out. 

Partner with us. In all this, be our partner. We actually need someone to walk with us in this faith adventure as much as we need a pastor. Maybe more. It’s a big world. No one of us can solve all its problems. But we can walk together, doing what we can. 

Dear Pastor, we know you are human. We are too. We are all trying to be the sort of human Jesus was. Someday you will retire, and you will look back on all the richness that is church. You will know how much you have been blessed and how much serving the church has formed you. And you will never be able to thank God enough. 

For now, just share all this goodness with us. 

Amen? Amen. 


Cindy Hickman, (synonym for “retired”) grateful United Methodist Pastor. 

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